Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounter

Review of Gregory Crewdson documentary

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounter

We were unfamiliar with the work of photographer Gregory Crewdson before going into this screening. Now, happily, we've seen the light (and the darkness) of this singular artist's transformative work and are ready to take up second and third day jobs in order to own purchase of his otherworldly, existentially tormented photographs.

Director Ben Shapiro's documentary Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounter is, if anything, too brief. That's not a knock on Shapiro, only an admission of our ignorance going in: We want to know more, see everything, get closer to the hyper-realististic, ultra-spectral imaginary fragments of "real life" that Crewdson captures with his lens (and film/lighting crews of 60 or more people).

A Brooklynite who found his true artistic calling amidst the ramshackle-proud townships of a economically crumbling Massachusetts (Pittsfield, for example), Crewdson's intricately staged photographs could be kin to Cindy Sherman or Edward Hopper's equally affecting visual scenarios, but the artist himself states a childhood visit to a Diane Arbus exhibit, via his father who had reasons his son still puzzles over, as the genuine impetus.

Whatever the catalyst, Crewdson's techniques, adapted from cinema for single-image photography, involve logistically complex shoots using non-professional talent and hauntingly moribund settings: near-empty parking lots lit by treacherous pools of light, begrimed windows glimpsed through private doorways, and always the photographs focal and imaginative point, the people. Sometimes they appear to be lost, almost always forlorn, disquieting in their humble everyday ordinariness yet freighted with small menace, like a still frame from moments before the hysterical shower sequence in Hitchcock's Psycho, or at any randomly-chosen point in David Lynch's Blue Velvet.

All of this, we learn from Shapiro's engrossing documentary, is backboned by a fierce, unwavering vision and a distillation of everything Crewdson sees, hears, and feels during his location scouting sojourns to just over the wrong side of the tracks. It's a terrible, lovely, uncanny sort of place, a real-world Twilight Zone of Americana made all the more real by nature of its fakery. (Screens Sunday, 5pm, Alamo Slaughter, Wednesday, 4pm, Alamo Slaughter, Saturday, 11:30, Vimeo Theater)

Read the Chronicle's interview with director Ben Shapiro here.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
SXSW Film Releases Full Feature Lineup
SXSW Film Releases Full Feature Lineup
Slate includes everyone from Wes Anderson to the Zellners

Monica Riese, Jan. 30, 2014

Mindy Kaling Comes to SXSW
Mindy Kaling Comes to SXSW
The comedian and showrunner will speak March 9

Monica Riese, Jan. 21, 2014

More by Marc Savlov
Ruben Brandt, Collector
Pop-art animated heist flick puts collection obsession on display

March 22, 2019

What If <i>Texas Chain Saw Massacre</i> Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
What If Texas Chain Saw Massacre Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
Putting the Austin-made seminal slasher back into context

March 22, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounter, Gregory Crewdson, Ben Shapiro

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle