02 August 2006

Film: Absolute Wilson

MIFF 2006
Absolute Wilson
Forum Theatre
1 August 2006



Absolute Wilson is an interesting documentary about a theatre director that does not convey the power of Wilson's work.

I saw Wilson’s Einstein On the Beach in 1992. Part meditation, part spectacle, pure experience – and  one of the most phenomenal nights I have ever spent in a theatre.

Director Katharina Otto-Bernstein is also an admirer, which influences her choices. The film avoids criticism, and contribution by significant Wilson collaborators is noticeably absent.

Very successful is her exploration of how Wilson developed his unique theatrical language. Possibly his most powerful works have never been seen in public. Wilson used theatre games in schools and hospitals to enable communication with patients and children who were “unable” to communicate. I would love to have seen The Black Rider (Wilson/Tom Waits/ William Burroughs collaboration), but even better would have been a piece performed in a hospital in the late 60s. The cast were patients who could only make small movements with their hand or mouth. They were connected by photosensitive string. They created a visual language showing they could communicate.

Wilson’s public frame and regard were established by his collaborations with young artists Raymond Andrews (Deafman Glance) and Christopher Knowles (A Letter for Queen Victoria).  Andrews is deaf and Knowles is autistic. The acclaimed works created language that gave context & meaning to people unable to express themselves in a text and word based world.

There was criticism of these collaborations, even hints of exploitation. This was not pursued, and neither Andrews (who is also Wilson’s adopted son) nor Knowles were interviewed for the film.

Absolute Wilson gave me a greater understanding of an artist I admire. I would have liked more debate and wish the film could have captured the experience of being in theatre. Fortunately, this can be achieved by seeing his new work at the Melbourne International Arts Festival in October.

This appeared in The Pundit

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