In a Dream Captures an Artist and His Madness


“I’m fascinated by giganticness,” reveals Santa-bearded mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, whose compulsive, nearly-half-century-long mission to create candy-colored mazes of fractured tiles, mirror shards, paint, and bric-a-brac has covered tens of thousands of Philadelphia’s square feet, including the home Zagar shares with wife, Julia. An inwardly distressed, self-absorbed eccentric who is unafraid to expose himself, both physically and emotionally, Isaiah bluntly admits that he was molested as a boy and attempted suicide in his twenties, and, midway through the film’s production, tells Julia on-camera that he’s been sleeping with his assistant. Where most documentarians would rest on the laurels of a great subject and riveting present-tense drama, director Jeremiah Zagar has observed too much of his father’s creative logic to cheat us with artless hagiography. In dreamily paced tracking shots, macro close-ups, time-lapse glimpses of Isaiah’s processes (the raking together of paint and cement is especially satisfying), archival footage, and animation, In a Dream exhibits as much beauty and sensuality as Isaiah’s work, while the unabashedly personal nature of the filmmaker-subject dynamic is as candid about familial madness as Tarnation, and captures more insight than those Friedmans did.

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