"We found it hard," says the voiceover, "to remember that we were filming a man in his 80th year." The figure on the screen -- bustling about, hammering on chisels, supervisong the pouring of molten metal, molding little figures in plasticine, jetting around the world, attending a party and reflecting on life and art -- is Henry Moore.
Tonight's PBS special (Channel 26 at 10) might be subtitled: "Portait of the Artist as an Old Man," except that Moore wears his 80-plus years with the aplomb of one who has been active all his life and has no intention of quitting.
In the course of an hour, Moore is interviewed on location in England, Italy, Germany and the U.S. He dominates the show, but his sculptures are a recurring motif: human figures poised on the verge of abstraction; abstractions that look like they are trying to be animate; a giant figure standing amid deep snow in Chicago; and tiny ones on a shelf in the artist's studio.
Moore is shown in his Italian villa (near Carrara, where he gets most of his marble), looking at a tree that had been uprooted by a tornado the night before: "Very dramatic . . . I may even get an idea for a sculpture out of it, so you see there's nothing lost."
Then he is in his country home in England, walking among the trees: "I used to think you couldn't make a garden with trees except for your children -- there wouldn't be time for it -- but here we are." He is shown, again and again, running his hands over his sculptures with a special tenderness, and he explains that he is a sculptor because he is "absorbed with dimensions, with the shape of things . . . If I were absorbed with words, I'd be a writer."
Articulatenes is not, in fact, a primary quality of sculptors, and most of what Moore says during the hour of film (taken at intervals over a two-year period) would seem a bit flat in print. But in the flesh -- talking about Cezanne, for example, as he makes small, three-dimensional figures modeled on a Cezanne painting -- he is an enjoyable subject for a pleasant, low-key visit.