Dec 022011

Because it premiered through a DVD release rather than more conventional theater methods, many people who should see Make probably haven’t yet. Fortunately, it is available on DVD to seek it out. In a small, strange 69-minute package, Make is one of 2011′s best and most revelatory films.

Malcolm Hearn and Scott Ogden’s documentary follows four artists – Hawkins Bolden, Judith Scott, Ike Morgan and Prophet Royal Robertson – who create incredible, idiosyncratic artwork while living with disabilities that would be considered crippling in any other context.

Bolden creates “scarecrows” that he uses for bird protection; he never views them as artwork. But the structures, assembled from ruined buckets, appliances and other trash, are impactful and haunting. Also, Hawkins is blind. “He’s always doing something,” his live-in sister says. The hole-covered metal orb on Make‘s DVD cover is one of Bolden’s creations. One particularly striking creation is a pair of stuffed jeans positioned on a chair. The effect is like someone’s disembodied bottom half sitting down.

Judith Scott lives with Down Syndrome, but at Creative Growth, an Oakland-area home for mentally disabled artists, she lives a life of constant creation. Scott wraps strings and fabric obsessively until beautiful, multi-colored abstract sculptures appear on her work desk. Although Judith is both deaf and mute, she is communicative through her prolific artwork. Her doctors believe that the art is her way of expressing her ordinarily closed-off worldview.

Ike Morgan has lived most of his life in the Austin State Hospital. He suffers with schizophrenia and has trouble saying words in the right order. He also draws his own version of famous portraits of U.S. presidents and other historical figures. He sets the original image next to his empty page and with long-hand paint strokes creates shockingly saturated, intense renditions of famous faces. He brings his own presence to these pictures. They are their own creations. A former violent-tempered psychotic, Morgan’s artwork consumes his interest to the point that the more anti-social aspects of his illness have all but disappeared.

And in Baldwin, Louisiana, Prophet Royal Robertson lost his mind after his wife, Adell, left him. So he has turned his home into a gigantic, multi-faceted shrine to Biblical/extra-terrestrial painted sign construction. One of the dominating themes of the mixed media creations is Royal’s obsession with his ex-wife’s imagined infidelities and prostitution. His work is reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch in its intricacy and mixture of spiritual and personal obsession. His large family, all of whom haven’t seen Royal for years, don’t regard Prophet with hostility but with a sad resignation that he is living his life in a different playing field.

By exploring these people with intimacy and understanding, Make asks some pretty big questions. What does it say about the nature of existence that these truly remarkable creations come from such unexpected sources? What does it say about the human brain and spirit? Where does genius come from, and what does that word even mean? The artwork is so otherworldly that it feels like a glimpse into a different plane of existence. It makes the viewer consider the unknowable.

Ogden and Hearn’s method mixes video footage with haphazard film segments, and the thrown-together approach fits the film’s diamond-in-the-rough content. By the end of the movie, the viewer has grown to love these artists. Their lives attain a dignity that is moving and inspiring.  This is the kind of movie you want to show to everyone you know after you see it.

Final Grade: ***** (out of five)