William Eggleston in the Real World

Runs Thurs., Nov. 10–Wed., Nov. 16, at Northwest Film Forum.

It's fair to say that Michael Almereyda (Nadja, the Ethan Hawke Hamlet) also has good taste when making documentaries about other artists. He profiled Sam Shepard, Sean Penn, and Nick Nolte in the backstage peek This So-Called Disaster, and now he dutifully tags along behind Southern photographer William Eggleston. Eggleston, who came to fame with the Museum of Modern Art's first solo color photography show in 1976, is a man of few words, and Almereyda doesn't really try to draw him out. "Why not be silent, patient, and watchful, like the photographer?" he asks, letting his subject's method dictate his own. The results are polite, not penetrating. (Later in the film, in an onstage interview, novelist Bruce Wagner gets Eggleston to admit of his photographs, "I really do not step away or reframe. These are composed in an instant.")

Since the artist is so laconic (subtitles are provided to help us translate his few Southern-accented utterances), Almereyda does much of the talking. He's a good art critic, praising "the held-breath quality . . . the democracy of objects" in Eggleston's work. After a while, though, I felt I'd rather sit through a slide show rather than follow the gnomic artist—or flip through one of his photo books to have more time to consider his work. If the guy doesn't feel like talking, fine, but watching him mutter to himself while shooting through shop windows and wandering around old gas stations is just plain boring. Almereyda follows the snapshot aesthetic into banality. It's the decisive moment that counts (Eggleston was highly influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson), not the indecisive moments before and after. (NR)

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