M. C. Escher: Journey to Infinity--Robin Lutz directed this deft and speedy documentary portrait of the Dutch woodcut and print artist famed for repeated symmetrical patterns; birds and lizards taking shape in the spaces between other birds and lizards; gravity-defying, dimension-bending stairways; hands drawing the hands that are drawing them and the like. It traces his life, from art school in Delft and Haarlem to artistic awakening in Italy until Mussolini drove him to Switzerland and then Belgium, where the Nazis made him uncomfortable and ultimately drove him back to the Netherlands.
There are a few talking heads: Escher's own (now elderly) kids, and Graham Nash, who's a big fan. But the focus is less on his life than on the evolution of his art, although Escher claimed he was less an artist than a mathematician. Many of us would be inclined to disagree; his style is impeccably lovely, and his visions are playful and beguiling at the same time they carry unsettling perceptual resonances. He is perhaps vulnerable to the charge of gimmickry; this may be why serious critical appraisal was slow to come, despite (or because of) his work's worldwide popularity.
But it would be hard to suppose, based on Escher's diaries and other writings from which the narration of this film is taken, that he was a crass huckster. Indeed, he seems perplexed and a bit pained by the enthusiasm of hippies and rock stars for his pictures. This narration, spoken with Cleese-worthy buoyancy and a touch of comic pomposity by Stephen Fry, is one of the movie's best assets; it's the perfect seasoning to the feast of Escher's images.
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