Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell
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Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell

USA, 2008, 71 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: AIDS / HIV, Biography / History, Documentary, Gay, Music / Music Video
Program: Documentary
Language: English


Every so often a truly brilliant artist appears on the cultural scene. When you see and hear Arthur Russell, you know immediately that he was just such an artist, even if you’re not sure you’ve heard of him before. Matt Wolf’s visually rich and detailed documentary helps to revive Russell’s oeuvre — just in step with new re-releases of his music and his quiet entrenchment as a cult figure in musicians’ circles.
Born in 1952 in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Russell took his virtuoso cellist talent and joined a Buddhist commune in San Francisco in the ’60s, where he met his soon-to-be mentor Allen Ginsberg, eventually following him to New York. Part of the ’70s art scene there, Russell collaborated with avant-garde composers such as Phillip Glass, produced achingly beautiful cello recordings and became musical director of famed art space The Kitchen. All the while, he composed the juiciest underground dance tracks around (“Is It All Over My Face,” “She Bang”), spurring the sound that eventually defined the burgeoning disco scene and clubs like Studio 54.
Wolf’s deft direction captures the anxious excitement of New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s, giving a well-rounded view of Russell’s complicated life—his multifaceted talents and the self-defeating perfectionism that held him back. He died of AIDS in 1992, and his name and music fell into relative obscurity, but Wolf’s compelling portrait will no doubt add to Russell’s growing fan base and reintroduce us to someone we should all know. — SEAN UYEHARA

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