Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (US, 2008)

Evidently your hep-cat pose in New York City art and music circles will deflate if you blank on the name “Arthur Russell.” The quiet, thoughtful Iowa-born fellow was a skilled cellist who fled the cornfields for the boho climes of San Francisco, New York City and the “Kitchen” experimental/avant-garde scene of the 1960s an '70s. Dude branched into songwriting, orbited the fringes of several bands (including Talking Heads and Modern Lovers) and even mentored Allen Ginsberg in lyrics composition. With the advent of disco he strongly influenced the popular dance-scene sound, even as Russell’s more personal work embraced the experimentalism of John Cage and Philip Glass. Though Russell sought a mainstream audience on the level of his idols ABBA and the Rolling Stones, his non-team-player personality and eccentricities mitigated against him. Here, a gallery of interviewees praise Russell in the adoring, luminous terms that artists only seem to reserve for a peer who’s dead and gone - so why Russell isn’t on camera to explain himself is a foregone conclusion. And too bad, because his story remains something of a question mark in the air; how much would he have accomplished if AIDS hadn’t written the last act? Heart and soul of the documentary really belong to his prairie-bred parents Chuck and Emily, who reacted to their son’s homosexuality and recorded legacy (“I call it music you can’t really tap your feet to,” says the insurance-salesman father) with loving, if slightly puzzled, acceptance. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9. HH 1/2
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