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Larry Wessel’s Love

Los Angeles based filmmaker Larry Wessel has been making his own unique low-budget documentaries since the early nineties. Shot on video, his works commonly focus on unusual or less often explored areas of popular culture, covering topics such as Mexican bullfighting (Taurobolium), observations and anecdotes on 1950s outsider culture as told by artist Robert Williams (Carny Talk) and the creative history of industrial musician and prankster Boyd Rice (Iconoclast). Wessel’s latest work – Love – sees him turn his camera onto the paintings of American artist Beth Moore-Love. Her naturalistic paintings depict a strange, slightly skewed America in which protagonists, commonly young girls, sit next to burning cities, or burning rural homesteads, or grasp decapitated heads on the blood splattered decks of pirate ships, or are cast adrift alone on oceanic ice flows, or attend lynchings. Love’s work is deeply embedded in an updated, post-surreal version of the American gothic. Love’s work is not without controversy, and this film details a minor scandal following a group exhibition in Berlin.

Asked about his approach to making Love, Wessel recalls that he “started out by shooting many hours of footage of Beth Moore-Love and her mentor Dale Caudill talking with each other about every one of her paintings that she created between 1993-2006.” These in depth conversations explore her painting techniques, her visual style and her development as an artist, examining her creative processes and the decisions that informed them. The film was then constructed over a lengthy editing process, “It was like putting together the pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle” states Wessel, “except not knowing what the final picture would look like. The big story revealed itself only during the final stages of editing.”

Laced throughout the interviews are images of her vivid, colourful paintings. These are brought to life through meticulously detailed close-ups, the camera tracking over the works, focusing on specific elements and pulling out aspects of the paintings to emphasize the ways in which they were created and the stories that they tell.

Wessel, whose previous works commonly embraced a more directly cinéma vérité style of filmmaking, explains the change in style as a direct response to Love’s detailed painting style, “I found that her paintings all have this alluring quality of pulling the viewer closer and closer. They also have a peculiar realism that one encounters in dreams, especially in nightmares. I wanted Love to have these same qualities. Of course digital panning, scanning and zooming into the details of her paintings was necessary. Sound effects, music and animation were also extremely important in helping me achieve the goal of making my Love story as alluring as her paintings.”

Love is a unique dialogue between an artist and mentor, as they discuss and trace the artist’s development, Wessel’s ability to sit and shoot, as his subjects open-up for him, enables the audience to witness these conversations.

– Jack Sargeant, FilmInk