Saturday, April 04, 2009

Review: Celia Carey presents documentary Mr. Dial Has Something To Say at Lousiana Film Fest Student Division at RFC

Imagine my favorite institutions revealed in gaudy shame: 60 Minutes, PBS, NY Times art critic Michael Kimmelman. That's what filmmaker Celia Carey, guest at the Louisiana Film Festival Student Division, shows viewers in her documentary "Mr Dial has Something To Say."

Thornton Dial, a backwoods Alabama mixed media artist of stunning achievement, is at the heart of the story. Beside him is nutty art collector Bill Arnett, the man who pays Dial a big city fee for his art. Arnett architects the ascent of Dial from obscurity to NYC and to recognition in the national gallery and museum scene.

Then the CBS program 60 Minutes runs a hatchet job on Arnett, portraying him as an exploiter of Dial and other emerging artists from Alabama. The CBS hit against Arnett - based on 2 dubious sources but presented with authority - shakes the art world. Somehow the NY Times art critic re-thinks his praise of Dial's work. Publishing and exhibit offers made to Dial and Arnett begin to collapse.

One opportunity remains following the media devastation: a Dial show at Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Carey's cameras capture the huge Dial reliefs - created with scrap iron, textiles and paint - in soaring fulfillment.

Carey's film is about America's media hierarchy, about the NYC art game and about racism (Thornton Dial is black). She presents a plethora of voices from academia, black studies, from the NYC art world. And she backs her story with pulsing rap music and blues.

In the end her story about merit, money and media is disturbing. Made for PBS and selected in one showcase as exemplary of PBS work, PBS has declined to air it nationally (a bowdlerized, short version here).

Michelle Glaros, director of the Louisiana Film Fest, is to be congratulated for bringing Ms. Carey to Shreveport. Such stimulating work is an ideal accompaniment to the exciting competition and showcase of work by idealistic teens and their earnest teachers.

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