Rating: 3 stars
In 2001, filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer made “Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy,” a captivating, visually rich documentary about the British sculptor known for land-art creations and museum installations (including one at the National Gallery of Art). “Leaning Into the Wind” catches up with the sculptor 15 or so years later, still foraging quarries, meadows, bogs and forest floors for his materials, still creating disruptions within built and natural environments that feel both organic and shocking, conveying both reassurance and a sense of faint unease.
Although Goldsworthy was in his 40s during “Rivers and Tides” and is in his 60s now, Riedelsheimer doesn’t probe his subject on what has changed. Assisted by his now-grown daughter Holly, Goldsworthy doesn’t stop to reflect much on how his ideas about impermanence — always embedded within his work — have shifted with his own proximity to mortality. Instead, the talking-head segments of “Leaning Into the Wind” feature Goldsworthy reflecting on his early influences (including the coastal city of Morecambe, England, where he soaked up atmosphere during his studies at a nearby college, and, later, working on farms); environmental change (the yellow elm leaves that he uses to gild his most eye-catching installations are rapidly disappearing); and the exquisite liminal connection he’s been pursuing over the course of his career, whether between nature and culture, control and futility or beauty and decay.
Far more satisfying than Goldsworthy’s own observations are the images of the artist at work. Following with his camera at a discreet distance or elevated angles, Riedelsheimer frames both the process and resulting work with care and sensitivity. Trailing Goldsworthy from Brazil, Spain and France to New Hampshire, San Francisco and Scotland (his adopted home), “Leaning Into the Wind” chronicles the creation of thrilling new works, including a tree trunk encased in a marvelously cracked fondant of local clay; an intervention involving reeds, thorns and moss that bursts with whimsy and solemnity; and an installation called “Sleeping Stone,” whose egglike shape — a Goldsworthy standard — is both womblike and sepulchral.
Gorgeously photographed, and with a minimalist score by Fred Frith, “Leaning Into the Wind” offers viewers a welcome chance to consider the work of an artist who defies the recent commodification cult to embrace the ephemeral and the nominally “worthless.” (He’s given to lying down on the sidewalk in the midst of a rainstorm, using his prone body as a human stencil to create momentary street graffiti.) Goldsworthy’s raw materials are no less than time, memory and the nature of nature itself. Of all the sequences in “Leaning Into the Wind” that capture the artist’s singular standing, perhaps the most eloquent is when he and Holly are meticulously applying moistened leaves and flower petals to a stone staircase in what looks like Edinburgh. A troupe of tourists tramps by, looking on with vague curiosity, unaware that they’re passing a national treasure.
PG. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains brief strong language. 93 minutes.