Marfa Dialogues

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell

Matt Wolf

5 April 2009

Wild Combination
Directed by Matt Wolf
Film screening and discussion with the director
5pm Crowley Theater
This is a free event

Ballroom Marfa is proud to present a special screening of the 2008 award-winning documentary Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell. The filmmaker Matt Wolf will be present for discussion.

Wild Combination pays homage to the inimitable Arthur Russell: avant-garde cellist, composer, singer and disco artist. Despite being an East Village staple during his days, Russell faded away without much recognition following his death in 1992 at the age of forty. AIDS-related complications had already had an effect on his prolificacy by then; and yet he left behind more than one thousand tapes of unreleased material.

Since his death, a series of new compilations and re-releases has brought Russell’s music to a wider audience and helped solidify his reputation. In stark contrast to the flashy hits that have come to epitomize disco for the mainstream, Russell was part of an edgier, underground disco where rules and codes of established genre didn’t apply. The serialized patterns of minimalist symphonies resonated with the repetitive rhythms in dance music. Likewise, the utopian social settings of those early discos could be compared to the Buddhist commune Russell had been part of in his early San Francisco days. Without pretension, Russell ambitiously explored all of these possibilities.

In Wild Combination, Matt Wolf offers a portrait of Arthur Russell that reaches back to the influences of the musician’s rural Iowa beginnings, his creative life in New York City and his relationships with life partner, Tom Lee. Through these, Wolf imagines Russell’s point of view, and offers a nuanced interpretation of his music with the input of a few of Russell’s many collaborators and fans –- Allan Ginsberg, David Toop, Ernie Brooks and Philip Glass among them. Wolf has said: “In the process of making the movie, I learned things from Arthur about being an artist and pursuing it at all costs. Arthur struggled: he created obstacles for himself and he frustrated his collaborators and loved ones. But I think, unlike many other people, Arthur was able to connect to a primal place of childlike innocence and fun.”

Village Voice described the film as “intimate and infinite.” Amy Taubin listed it in ARTFORUM as a Top Ten film of 2008: “An intuitive, remarkably personal love letter.” These are just a few of the many accolades Wild Combination has received since its premiere at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival. Since then, additional screenings have included: IFC Center, NY; ICA, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Boston MFA; MoMA, New York; Edinburgh Film Festival; Inside Out, Toronto; Thessaloniki Documentary Festival: and Vancouver Film Festival.

27-year-old filmmaker Matt Wolf was recently named one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine. He moved to New York when he received a full-tuition fellowship to attend NYU’s film school. Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell is his first feature-length film. His short films, including an experimental biography of the artist and AIDS activist David Wojanorwicz, have screened in numerous film festivals, art spaces, and universities worldwide. Currently, Wolf is directing videos for The New York Times and a series of short documentaries for The Sundance Channel.

For more information on Wild Combination visit: