A decade's fretting and futzing, and the few ecstatic moments rendered along the way, are compressed into 77 minutes in this finely sketched portrait of the artist's unlikely pursuit of perfection. Like Wes Anderson's small-town gothic negative, Brooklyn-native, Yale-educated Crewdson has an obsessive eye for physical detail, here creating image after image of post-capitalist desolation that marry cinematic sweep with diorama's intimate, dollhouse precision. Director Ben Shapiro followed Crewdson and his vast creative team as they assembled "Beneath the Roses," a series of images staged in and around faltering Lee, Massachusetts. Diane Arbus and Blue Velvet are cited as influences; Edward Hopper might complete the world's bleakest three-way. A dissipation junkie, Crewdson is drawn to the gutted local landscape and the locals themselves, recruiting the latter to pose dolefully in the former as a fog machine enhances a tragic, twilight haze. "Look sad," an assistant commands an aspiring subject before taking a digital snap for the boss. Crewdson and others (including Russell Banks and Laurie Simmons) speak eloquently about his project, but it's the on-set agonies—to achieve a fleeting expression here, a dark kiss of light there, and the peculiar relief they bring our maestro—that fascinate.
A typically haunting Crewdson scene.
Runs Fri., Nov. 23-Wed., Nov. 28 at SIFF Film Center. Not rated. 77 minutes.