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Rivers and Tides

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Rivers and Tides
from Film Forum, 04/03/03

Some people look at God's creation and see a resource for practical uses. Others stand back in awe at its beauty. For artist Andrew Goldsworthy, nature is beautiful but it is also full of possibility.

The idea of seeing yet another movie about an artist may turn away moviegoers tired of the theme. To look at recent films about artists—Frida, Pollock, Baquiat, Surviving Picasso—you might think artmaking is all about alcohol, drugs, spousal abuse, infidelity, madness, and political activism. But in Thomas Riedelsheimer's new documentary, Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time, Goldsworthy's work reminds us of an artist's true focus: a meditative commitment to discovery, creativity, and the enhancement of God's own invention.

Goldsworthy does not present himself as a Christian, or even particularly interested in God. In fact, his contemplative monologues about his own thought processes have annoyed some of the critics who have written about the film. (After all, the first rule of art is "Show, don't tell.")

But his work may well draw viewers towards profound questions about how such beauty and possibility can exist in nature without a Grand Designer. Further, each exhibit seems a testament to what is possible when, in spite of the unstoppable forces of the elements and the passing of time, his work holds for a few triumphant hours. Goldsworthy's constructions seem to defy natural laws, but they hold precisely because he is willing to test the limits of those laws. He builds complex, gravity-defying walls by joining the tips of twigs; he builds a precariously balanced column of stone that becomes the submerged secret of a rising river; and he braids leaves into long colorful ribbons that wind their way down rivers into oblivion. With his patient, precise craftsmanship, Goldsworthy shows us the rewards of attentiveness, patience, ambition, and respect for the natural world.

J. Robert Parks, film critic for The Phantom Tollbooth, sent Film Forum a rave review:

Hollywood has never been terribly concerned about God's creation. The great movies of the '30s and '40s were shot entirely on soundstages, which gave the outdoor scenes a strangely surrealistic effect. When movies began location shooting in the late '50s and '60s, the effect wasn't naturalistic as much as it was touristic, showing off the vistas of Rome, Paris, and the great desert southwest. Now, of course, many landscape shots are created on someone's computer, and nature often has a malevolent air when it appears at all (The Core's a good example).Which is why Rivers and Tides is so refreshing. Focusing on the outdoor art of Andy Goldsworthy, this documentary treats God's creation with the care and awe that it deserves. [The artwork] forces us to appreciate God's divine way with colors, as well as the awesome contrast between his permanence and nature's impermanence, which is a healthy reminder of our own mortality.If you need an antidote to the tripe Hollywood's feeding us lately, I can't recommend Rivers and Tides highly enough. It is truly a breath of fresh air.

David Bruce (Hollywood Jesus) agrees: "In the midst of war it is good to remind one's self of the hand of God in our midst. One way to do this is to look at the beauty of creation. War is ugly. Creation is beautiful. It reminds us of a God who is love. With this in mind I recommend to you this wonderful film."

At the same site, Darrell Manson writes, "While watching the film, it is difficult to remain silent. The oohs and ahhs just come out. The works are in deed breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Like Goldsworthy's art … Riedelsheimer's film gives us a fresh way of seeing the nature around us and appreciating not only the creation of art, but God's creation."

Mainstream critics sensed a spiritual profundity to Goldsworthy's work, even if they do not have the words to explain such intuitions. Desson Howe (The Washington Post) writes, "Goldsworthy's art borders on the religious. And we should all belong to his church. These 'works' are both temporary and transcendental. To watch and appreciate them as he does is to undergo a transformation yourself." Michael Sragow (Baltimore Sun) says, "In its own quiet, voluptuous way, Rivers and Tides, an unpretentiously brilliant documentary, uses [Goldsworthy's work] to open up the hidden drama of the natural universe. It helps that Goldsworthy is such a direct, no-guff artist, expressing himself as far as he can in words and then letting his art do the rest. Rivers and Tides is the rare work about an artist that is enhancing, not parasitic."

from Film Forum, 04/24/03

The remarkable documentary Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, which Film Forum covered three weeks ago, has won another admirer.

Steve Lansingh (The Film Forum) writes about what an extraordinary effect the film had on him. He says, "Rivers and Tides was the most meaningful spiritual experience I've had in the movies in many years. Goldsworthy creates such exquisite beauty out of natural elements and natural shapes that he draws our attention to the beauty already present in nature that we have forgotten how to see. He reveals, without direct comment, the earth that God created for His enjoyment, which we are invited to take part in. The pace and focus of Riedelsheimer's film is deliberately contemplative, tailor-made for a dark and quiet theater where you can focus your whole attention on it."

from Film Forum, 01/02/04

Steve Lansingh (The Film Forum) writes, "Rivers and Tides, although well-received by critics, is mostly absent from year-end accolades because of the perception that its on-screen magic is provided by the documentary's subject, artist Andy Goldsworthy, and not by the behind-the-camera talent that awards are meant to recognize. But director Thomas Riedelsheimer is downright daring in his insistence on capturing the transitory nature of Goldsworthy's outdoor nature-works. His lengthy shot of a driftwood hut unspooling in the rising tide, which he allows us to watch without distraction, is one of the most beautiful things I've seen on film."