Michael Apted is one of our most interesting filmmakers—one of our most eclectic and one of our most underrated. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that he keeps himself from being pigeon-holed—moving from genre to genre, from film to TV, from narrative film to documentary. Perhaps it’s because for every Agatha (1979) there’s a Continental Divide (1981), for every Enigma (2001) there’s an Enough (2002). His narrative film work is nothing if not uneven. His documentary work, as exemplified by Inspirations (1997), is more cohesive in its vision (and may even explain the uneven quality of his narrative work).
With Inspirations he tackles one of the key questions about the nature of art—the driving force behind it—by conducting interviews with a slightly eccentric group of artists ranging from the very famous (David Bowie), to the famous (Roy Lichtenstein), to the far-from-household-word (glass artist Dale Chihuly, sculptor Nora Naranjo-Morse etc.), hoping to find the source of their inspirations. He also spends a good deal of time simply watching them at work and recording the process. Whether or not he always gets to the basis of their respective arts is almost immaterial. What matters—what makes the film work and instructs—is the connective sense that all of these artists have one thing in common: Their work itself is a living thing, and the work, to a very large extent, defines itself and leads the artist in its creation. It’s a fascinating and telling point of view (the same one that forms the film itself) that makes this look into the force behind the creation of art compelling in a way most art documentaries are not.