For the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival I figured I’d try and keep some kind of a review diary covering each of the 20 or so films I’m planning to see. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.
What seems to me to be a pretty low profile entry to this year’s NZIFF, Persistence of Vision is an interesting if somewhat minor documentary about visionary animator Richard Williams, a cautionary tale about the folly of genius and a tantalising study of what could have been.
I had heard some of the mythic story concerning Williams’ intensely personal opus The Thief and the Cobbler before, but it was nice to see the whole story laid out here. The turbulent 25+ year production of what Williams and the dozens of people he worked with saw as a game-changing masterpiece is a sad story of perfectionism and obsession, and the glimpses of the film that were actually produced and survive are fascinating, idiosyncratic depictions of the work Williams carried in his head for three decades.
There’s nothing remarkable about the style of the documentary itself, as director Kevin Shreck wisely allows the real events to tell the story through interviews with several of the people who lived the experience, although sadly not Williams himself, who refuses to speak on the record about his film. There’s a rather tragic note to the inevitable conclusion, as the film that was ultimately released came and went with little more than a blip, with almost none of the care and artistry that Williams was striving for.
A film like Persistence of Vision makes one mourn for all the lost, abandoned and compromised works of art that have been denied us. It’s by no means an essential film, but animation lovers and those seeking an understanding of the process of genius should give it a chance.