A solid, straightforward documentary on the artists Josef and Anni Albers, this film, being presented by Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and the Fine Arts Theatre, has its most immediate local appeal based on the 16 years (1933-1949) the couple spent at the experimental Black Mountain College. Despite a somewhat plodding tone, born of its insistence on sticking too much to a linear “and then this happened” narrative, the film ultimately has a much broader appeal, owing to its very interesting subjects.
Josef Albers had been a key figure in the revolutionary Bauhaus school of design that flourished in the 1920s and early
30s in Germany, ending with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. It was then that Albers, who didn’t speak a word of English at the time, was asked by architect Philip Johnson to come to Black Mountain College to teach. The very fact that the school was completely untraditional—even boldly experimental—made it a natural for the Albers, as did the fact that the school drew the attention of so many artists, designers, musicians and writers of the age.
For viewers not familiar with the work of Josef Albers, his paintings may seem simplified (a Bauhaus standard) to the point of absurdity—seeming in large part to be little more than squares within squares. (Other works, however, are a little more obviously complex as they play with shifting perspectives where the point of focus shifts depending on how you look at it.) But the point behind the art was not so much the shapes themselves, but the interplay of the colors and how those colors register to the individual looking at the paintings. What at first seems very simple isn’t so simple after you understand the point behind it. The film looks at this and at Anni Albers’ groundbreaking work in textiles, while touching on the fact that her husband’s work always tended to overshadow her own accomplishments. As noted, the film itself is almost perfunctory, but the subjects it examines more than make up for that.