Between the Folds (USA, 2008, Vanessa Gould)
The brevity and modesty of this film are essential to it's efficacy as both an entertaining and educational documentary. For the reputation of it's subject matter is also that of something small and unprepossessing. That origami is actually something massive and marvelous is made evident by the soft-spoken and less-is-more power of this film. And just as the film makes the viewer reconsider any prejudices that might be held about origami, reflecting on the film itself, the viewer realizes that it too turned out to be something more than expected.
This is a lot of fancy talk to say that Between The Folds handed my ignorant ass back to me on a plate. I popped the disc into the machine with a patronizing attitude; you know, origami is a quaint craft for kids. The film immediately gripped my attention with it's philosophic sensitivity, held my attention with it's aesthetic sophistication and ultimately made me pay proper attention to the nearly miraculous creations these people make from a single sheet of paper.
And as if it isn't enough to produce from a two-dimensional medium a three-dimensional form with exacting detail, one of the origami practitioners (origamist?) achieves motion conducive structures that actually lend themselves to dynamic reconfigurations. Yet the fragility of the structure only allows a limited window for this. I predict the emergence of origami performance art that by material necessity is as singular as the wiping away of a sand mandala by a Tibetian monk.
Conceptually what I found most profound was the nondichotomization of art and science. The most passionate origami artist must enter into mathematized technique and the most logical origami scientist must enter into the emotional core of creativity. And on a very personal note, it breaks my heart that I cannot share this film with my dead dad. One of his favorite metaphors for the dialectical interpenetration of opposites within a whole was what he called "the pizza fold;" i.e., moving dough folding over on itself.
If nothing else, I have been humbled by this film. The advanced origami displayed requires folds hundreds and hundreds of times over, in some cases, reaching into the thousands. The most I can manage every now and then is to play the one record I own by the Ben Folds Five.
Because Bevin had previously sent me some links to the work of some of the artists featured in this documentary, I was not surprised by the quality of the artistry involved in the origami. That said, I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work of the documentarian, Vanessa Gould (her first film, as far as I can tell), who does a terrific job of conveying the mathematics and aesthetics of origami, while also digging into the philosophical issues presented by the (sometimes faux) dichotomy of the two.
I fully expected the film to be a straight forward fawning over the increasingly intricate and technically sophisticated work being done on the field of origami, and the film fulfills expectations in the opening scenes. However, it quickly moves past such pedestrial considerations--I mean, how excited can you get over the devotion to increasing the fold count? It's no different than getting a hard on over Cameron's advancement in the field of 3-D CGI--and onto the more engaging questions, such as what is the relationship between technique and artistry? And is more necessarily better, or is there a point where the mathematics takes over and the aesthetic consideration are swamped by a quest for complexity?
Here is where the film really took off for me, particularly when the artists in the field examine the need to move into more philosophical directions, such as studying the evolution of the two dimensional material into a three dimensional artistic statement, or the development of an artistry of motion out of the static. Gould's film is evocative and intelligent, just like her subject matter, and she is smart enough to let the artists do the heavy philosophical lifting, turning her abstract inquery into concrete reality before our eyes.
And some of the stuff they make is incredible man!
It most certainly is. That said, after being dazzled by the increasing sophistication of the designs, I was completely knocked out by the guy who showed us the many beautiful things that could come out of a single fold. It was like reading William Carlos Williams after perusing some T.S. Eliot.; the film got me thinking about bigger aesthetic questions without being pedantic.