Art and Craft (Oscilloscope Pictures, NR)

art and_craft_75To again pretend this was a fiction film, I’d criticize it for having poor characters, but since it’s nonfiction that particular objection doesn’t stick.

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2014 was the best year for documentaries in recent memory, and one that is definitely upholding this argument is Art and Craft, directed by Jennifer Grausman and Sam Cullman. Art and Craft is one of those films that would be hard to believe, if it weren’t nonfiction: it’s about a man with OCD chasing after a man with schizophrenia. (Twist ending: It’s actually the same person! Nope, just kidding.) The man with schizophrenia is Mark Landis and the man with obsessive-compulsive disorder is Matthew Leininger. Leininger, a “tenacious registrar” as the press notes call him (that is, he’s not a police officer, and thereby is somewhat dubious in his quest to “catch” Landis), is after Landis is because Landis likes to forge great, valuable works of art and donate them to public institutions, such as universities.

Did you catch all that? If you did, I reckon you think it sounds great—it’s an incredible setup. To make it more compelling, Landis’ forgeries border on the incredible in their reproductive capacities of the originals (not for nothing that only Leininger has noticed anything amiss in the hundreds of times Landis has made one of these dubious donations), and also whether or not he’s doing anything illegal can be debated, since he never makes any money off of his forgeries. He seems to just have a thing for this weird sort of philanthropy.

Art and Craft features extensive interviews with both Landis and Leininger, and mostly stands back and lets the viewer decide what to make of all of this. The problem, though, is that both Landis and Leininger get tiresome very quickly—Landis is mincing and frustrating and Leininger self-righteous and off-putting. And if you’re like me, you won’t be terribly concerned with which of the two of them will “win,” so long as they stop talking and get off the screen soon. Though there’s not much Grausman and Cullman could have done about this problem, it does seem a shame. To again pretend this was a fiction film, I’d criticize it for having poor characters, but since it’s nonfiction that particular objection doesn’t stick.

On the upside, the premise is strong enough to sustain your interest over the main subjects’ grating personalities, and the film’s runtime is a brisk 89 minutes, so by the time you tire of them you won’t have much more of the film to sit through. At the same, if you want to see better examples of why 2014 was such a good year for documentaries, track down Jodorowsky’s Dune, 20,000 Days on Earth, Happy Valley, The Overnighters, Red Army, or any number of other docs that worked as a whole better than this one. | Pete Timmermann

Art and Craft shows at the Webster Film Series at 7:30 PM January 30 and 31. For more information, visit webster.edu/filmseries or call (314) 968-7487.

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