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TV Review

'Influence' Reveals Artists' Inspirations

October 01, 1998|KRISTINE McKENNA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"The Art of Influence," showing tonight on Bravo's new weekly performing arts series "Arena," takes a simple idea and gets a dazzling amount of mileage out of it. The premise? Ask figures from different creative disciplines to talk about their most important influence.

This could have added up to something dull as dirt, but director Deborah Dickson brings the theme vividly to life, largely by virtue of the intelligence with which she selected her subjects. Dickson talks with artists from around the world (several interviews are subtitled), from a wide array of creative disciplines including literature, film, music, visual art, choreography and theater.

Even more impressive is how articulate most of these people are; one wonders how much film Dickson had to shoot to snare the brilliant commentary that runs through the show.

South African playwright Athol Fugard interweaves a moving discussion of apartheid with reflections on Bertolt Brecht's use of theater as a tool for political change. Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe talks about the bombing of Hiroshima and the writings of Gunter Grass; the Oe sequence cuts to a clip from an interview with Grass, who recalls the moment he was finally made to believe that the death camps had really happened in Germany. It's a powerful piece of film.

Equally powerful is dancer Bill T. Jones' lovely observation that "Proust's world will exist for all time because of the way he depicted it," and French choreographer Maguy Marin's insightful comments on the work of Samuel Beckett.

The show takes many wonderful turns, including an interview with reclusive underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger on the subject of Jean Cocteau; a clip of a very young Stephen Rea in a production of Beckett's "Endgame"; an interview with Maria Callas, and a fabulous clip of her singing "Tosca"; amazing outtakes of the scene from Luis Bun~uel's 1967 film "Belle de Jour" when Catherine Deneuve is tied to a post and pelted with mud (from Carlos Fuentes on Bun~uel); photographer Graciela Iturbide roaming the streets of Mexico City while reflecting on her mentor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

The list of people you'd expect to see here includes Miles Davis, Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock. Among the surprising inclusions are Jackie Chan, on Buster Keaton, and Sinead O'Connor, on Bob Marley.

Not surprising at all is that the show suffers a major gender imbalance; Maria Callas is the only woman mentioned by anyone as an influence. This, however, is a minor quibble; mostly this is an inspiring piece of work that shows the human race operating at the very top of its game.

*

* "The Art of Influence" can be seen on "Arena" at 6 and 10 tonight on Bravo.

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