Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts (2021) Movie Review

Getting someone to understand this language can be a whole different matter. “Chasing Ghosts” has a great idea to showcase Traylor’s work as much as possible, and alongside the creations of other black artists, but its presentation of the talking head is quite didactic. Traylor’s abstract paintings don’t come so much to life through this documentary, but are lovingly promoted, and the cinema’s own artistic approach may contradict the verve Traylor fans associate with his work.

Given Traylor’s status as an artist whose work was promoted more after his death than during his lifetime, his paintings require the most complete picture possible and a lot of context. How to best understand these rectangular torsos, triangular teeth or one-dimensional locations? Experts interviewed by Wolf provide compelling information, like how the color blue on a figure’s legs referred to the emotional slump of the blues itself, or how relationship dynamics to be found in the way a woman and a man face each other, pointing in different directions. . But a clear description like “beautiful simplicity” resonates everywhere, and Wolf’s documentary favors voluminous historical context over analysis when it comes to making Traylor accessible. He can’t decide if his primary audience is a famous art gallery or a school trip, although both have their merits.

Traylor created hundreds and hundreds of paintings in the ’80s, a type of final chapter after initially being born into a slave family who shared a long-standing connection with the white family who owned them (hence the name family Traylor came). His paintings, many of which he drew on the back of cardboard or scraps of paper he could find, were completed in Montgomery, Alabama, a resting place after decades of sharecropping, dancing, partying and support for his growing family. how America supported and terrorized people like Traylor. Taken as a whole (the documentary features dozens and dozens of them, though countless have been lost over time) the paintings are like fascinating diary entries from a black American perspective less well documented, with some Traylor’s takes being more mystical or playful than others. .

To bring this story to light, Wolf works with a small amount of specific archival material – an understandable part of this production, with its budget constraints. There certainly aren’t many photos of Traylor or his upbringing, and the events of his life seem mostly illustrated by the few remaining written worksheets. But Wolf tends to create a broader backdrop of American history with flourishes that bring out his closer History Channel inclinations: voice-over reconstructions of the words of rulers and former slaves, slow analyzes on the art of clashes. historical and generic B-roll sequences. Associated with his talking head interviews which are themselves already aesthetically crude, the presentation dries up despite his precious information.

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