Friday 1 May 2009

Film portrait of Arthur Russell - Wild Combination

Arthur Russell was not a name I was familiar with until he was recommended to me - thank you Oliver! - now I can't get enough of him. I know it's been said before in reviews of his music but I really couldn't have placed it in time as it seems so contemporary. Matt Wolf's film portrait of Arthur Russell 'Wild Combination' is a wonderful mix of rare archival footage, interviews with family and friends, and some reconstruction- type film work (though that description doesn't really do it justice - sorry, I'm no film critic!)

Although he recorded and performed with, and was highly respected by, some big names in experimental and avant-garde music scene such as Philip Glass, Rhys Chatham and David Byrne he remained relatively uncelebrated in his lifetime (outside of the avant-garde circles he was a part of). It is only in the past 10 years or so that his work has become more widely known, through a number of re-issues and compilations. It's hard to categorize his work as he was so prolific in so many ways - as a composer, cellist, producer, writer, as Director of the Kitchen (a New York avant-garde performance space). I recently got two Arthur Russell albums which exemplify the breadth of his talent 'The World of Arthur Russell' - a Soul Jazz retrospective which concentrates more on the dance music - and Love is Overtaking Me - a truly amazing collection of music, more on the folk/country side.

He was incredibly prolific, recording hundreds of hours of music, and there's some great video footage in the film of him recording music, some where he's playing the guitar and some great stuff of him on his cello. What really struck me about the film though, and here's the archivist bit coming out, was the huge amount of recordings that he left behind that have never been released. The interview with his long-term partner Tom Lee is shot in the apartment they shared in New York's East Village. In the interview Tom refers to the hundreds of tape recordings which Arthur had made, and you can see these in the background, a bookshelf heaving with tapes. What an amazing Archive! All this unpublished music just waiting to be discovered, well discovered by the wider world, I'm sure Tom and Arthur's family have listened to most, if not all of it. Some of the tracks on Love is Overtaking Me are home recordings from this Archive and by the sounds of it there is a lot more still to be discovered, and hopefully made available to us all.


  1. you should really get more of his cello work: another thought and specially world of echo. i think that could be descibred as the most quintessential of his work.

    and his best disco stuff is in calling out of context.

    i have not been able to see the movie, though, i have been searching for it for ages.....

  2. Thanks for the recommendations, I keep meaning to get 'World of Echo', next payday for sure! I love 'Another Thought' and have been listening to 'Calling out of context' a lot recently, especially 'That's Us/Wild Combination' which is one of my favourites, along with 'Love is Overtaking Me'.
    I don't know what country you're in but in the UK the film is pretty easy to get, on Amazon and, though is does vary in price quite a bit.