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Gottfried Helnwein and the Dreaming Children

Release Year:         2011
Studio:         First Run Features
Format:         Colour; Widescreen; NTSC
Rated:         Not Rated
# of Discs:         1
Running Time:         72 Minutes plus bonus
DVD Release Date:         March 19, 2013
Director:         Lisa Kirk Colburn
Actor:         Gottfried Helnwein
E:Top Picks Rating:         8.5/10

First Run Features Write-up:  
A fascinating look at the creative process, this unique documentary explores what happens when the artist Gottfried Helnwein takes on the role of Production Designer for a never-before-seen opera written by Israel’s most famous playwright, Hanoch Levin. For Helnwein, the child has always been the symbol of innocence and innocence betrayed, a motif that persists throughout much of his work. But when the Israeli Opera creative team casts an adult to play the lead child, Helnwein must fight to preserve the opera’s integrity and Levin’s original vision.

Jon Ted Wynne Review:    
Gottfried Helnwein is a provocative and compelling contemporary visual artist whose obsession – at least in art – is children. What makes his work somewhat disturbing is that he is committed to showing the innocence that children embody as compromised again and again. Watching Helnwein working on what could be described as the ultimate application of his obsession – the production design for the opera “The Child Dreams” in Tel Aviv in 2009/2010 – the viewer must decide if he/she is being drawn into the workings of genuine creative genius or witnessing an exercise in pretentiousness and bad taste. It depends on one’s perspective. While I would classify my reaction as the former, I felt moments of distinct unease watching the birth of this opera. The experience does beg the question, “when does the use of children in art – especially art of a provocative nature – become exploitation?

Despite my own moments of initial uncertainty, the power of Helnwein’s vision came into sharp focus when the tableau effect of countless children suspended in the sky was revealed on the opera’s stage. Even Helnwein himself is taken aback when he first sees his vision realized. Witnessing this epiphany suggests the film might’ve benefited if it were packaged on DVD with the complete opera production as an extra feature.

This, really, is the ultimate compliment I can give the film: that it is somehow incomplete without the opera. Left wanting more of the story but not more of the film (if that makes sense), I’m inclined to overlook Helnwein’s personal quirks (his perpetual dressing in black, ever-present Ray Orbisonesque sunglasses and a bandana a la Danny “The Count” Koker, for example) as being genuine if eccentric expressions of a unique artist. How this contrasts with the similarly clad but utterly pretentious choreographer of the opera is an eye-roller. The latter looks like he’s trying to compensate for his natural average-ness by dressing up like the cool kid. Standing next to the very genuine Helnwein, he looks like a poser, or at least a strange Goth/Nerd hybrid.

GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN AND THE DREAMING CHILDREN is not for everyone, but for those who appreciate artists who push the boundaries in the search for genuine meaning and revelation (of the kind only Art can provoke), this is a fascinating creative journey.

END SLATE: Looking at Helnwein’s resume, he once designed a stage production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. Now THAT I would’ve loved to have seen!

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