This fascinating documentary about the lives and works of composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham works in large part because it allows the duo — along with their friends, co-workers and a treasure-trove of archival footage — to speak for themselves in a more or less cinema verite manner, without editorial comment.
Filmmaker Eliot Caplan was uniquely qualified to undertake the project, since he’d served as filmmaker in residence for the Cunningham Dance Foundation from 1983 through 1998, during which time he collaborated with Cage and Cunningham on film and video projects. Many of these collaborative works, in fact, find their way into Cage/Cunningham. The collaborations of these giants of the avant garde music and dance world predate Caplan’s involvement. However, Cunningham had long been involved with film in order to commit his work to it. As a result, an unusual amount of his work, often using Cage’s music, exists in film form.
Of course, Cage and Cunningham are of particular local interest due to their involvement with Black Mountain College. It was there that Cunningham founded the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1953, and where, for that matter, Cage presented what is sometimes referred to as the first “happening” (to use a very 1960s term) at the college as a theatrical event the previous year.
There is some slightly battered and faded 16mm footage in the film that — though unidentified — appears to have been shot in the Black Mountain area.
Beyond the local connection, this is a wonderful look at these men and their work — though even today their work may be a little outre for everyone’s taste. And it’s probably the best film you’ll ever see about either artist.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, in conjunction with Bonesteel Productions and the Fine Arts Theatre, is presenting a one-time screening of the film Thursday, June 23 at 7 p.m. at the Fine Arts Theatre. Admission is $10 at the door.]