I love films. I especially love documentaries. Now I have a new favorite
documentary: THE GATES. From the first aerial view of Central Park in
New York City, it is obvious that the filmmaker has an eye for beauty.
The film follows the efforts of two lovelily eccentric artists, Christo and
Jean-Claude, to temporarily change the landscape of Central Park with
a characteristically enormous project: setting up thousands of large
structures from which hang orange curtain-gates. It begins in the
1970’s by showing various meetings with city officials and committees
and the accompanying dissent–and initial rejection–that ensued.
One could understand what was going on even without the dialogue
(which was often barely intelligible from the lips of Christo anyway).
The portraiture in the Maysles’ classic style of close-up (at times
ultra-close-up) shots perfectly captured what was going on in the
brains behind those faces.
The film skips ahead a couple of decades to 2003, when New York
City mayor Michael Bloomberg finally approves their audacious
request. The dissent continues, except that this time the outrage
is expressed by the regular people who frequent the park. You
begin to commiserate with their reaction that the park is being
violated. Despite the skepticism and outright anger of the people,
the project continues.
Then, there is a beautiful selah moment accompanied by the tenor
saxophone music of Pharoah Sanders. You begin to see that the
bright orange colors of the structures are not so unnatural after all.
There are gorgeous matutinal skyscapes/cityscapes of yellow and
orange. It is unveiling day, February 2005.
Suddenly, the grousing voices disappear. The onlookers are awe-
stricken. Skepticism turns to admiration. Scores of images of the
curtain-gates show the myriad ways they are beautiful. Moreover,
the beauty is reflected in the smiling faces of old and young. The
work of art gathers people together and makes them dance in
the quiet, simple grace. Christo and Jean-Claude are ecstatic,
ascending to apotheosis, perceived as magnanimous and
beneficent instead of as egoistic. They wind up as true exemplars
Still reeling from the joyfulness in my heart at the lyrical heights
of the film verite, I was privileged to be in an audience that was
graced by Albert Maysles himself. Before he even spoke a word,
I could already see the love and light emanating in his aura
and reflected on his masterly, smiling face. He recounted many
wonderful experiences and anecdotes of filmmaking through the
years, but one thing he said will always stick with me: “The
essential element in making films is love.” And he was not
talking about love of the art; he was talking about love for the
subject, the person one is documenting. That is why he is
a nonpareil in his field. He encourages us all to capture it, whether
or not it involves looking through a lens.