Arthur Russell's Out of Context Tribute

A belated and mesmerizing celebration of the mysterious downtown music icon

"There's definitely ellipses and things left out of the film, that instead makes space for more expressionistic and visual material—or more emotional material with the family, the parents, and Tom," Wolf continues. Rather than revel in music-trivia minutiae (as is the wont of most music documentaries), Wild Combination instead resonates on an emotional level, much like Russell's most profound music does. We see Lee moved to tears while listening to Arthur's voice calling out from an old tape; we're in the Russells' den, watching a slide show of Arthur as a young boy.

There was one problem with linear storytelling, though: "The film may suggest . . . that it was inevitable he did the avant-garde, and then he did disco, and then he did World of Echo," Wolf says. "In fact, he was doing all of these things simultaneously. There wasn't a linear progression of Arthur's musical interest. It was all concurrent."

In the end, though, Russell's oeuvre remains an open-ended conversation, intimate and infinite. More material continues to see daylight (Audika plans to issue a set of cowboy/folk tunes in September). Each listener can engage Arthur Russell alone, imagine him whispering through iPod earbuds. In the film, there's an archival tape from Ginsberg recounting his initial impressions of the man: "There was something that he exuded that was both delicate, exquisite-minded, and youthful, and at the same time oddly reticent." Perhaps newcomers to Russell can take comfort in an internal Warner Bros. memo (dated 1979 and glimpsed briefly in the film) from a befuddled record executive: "Who knows what this guy is up to—you figure it out."

The Kitchen will screen Wild Combination twice on May 15 and host Arthur Russell tribute concerts May 16-17, thekitchen.org

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