Beauty and Monstrousness



The 2011 Toronto International Film Festival curated an interesting and provocative programme of world cinema. There was a larger focus this year on documentaries and avant-garde cinema. We take a look at the UK short “Random” and the German doc Gerhard Richter Painting.


It’s difficult to formulate a concise and clear review of “Random”, which began as a one-woman theatre production in the UK, and has now become something that eludes even the most articulate of film critics. It’s one part Shakespearean soliloquy, one part inventive film technique, one part one-woman show, and about ten thousand parts incredible.

The story is simple enough: an act of violence utterly destroys a black family living in London. How director Debbie Tucker Green expresses this story is fascinating. In this short film (coming in at only 58 minutes) Green takes us on an emotional roller-coaster of a journey. The audience laughs as the main character (Nadine Marshall) attempts to deal with her intrusive coworkers, who badger her about texting at work (she is mad at a boyfriend who has sent “not a ting” to her phone), and cries as she hears her mother’s deeply Caribbean voice saying “Come home… now” on her voicemail.

The culture clash of “Random” provides both comic relief and a source of interest to the audience. As Marshall’s character wakes up, her mother badgers her about wearing heavier clothing (“Carry a coat”) and later, Marshall’s character sees the police officer’s “outdoor boots” on her mother’s “good carpet”.

Marshall has an overwhelming task of taking on the other actors’ roles in interesting soliloquies that scream of Shakespearean influence. Marshall transforms her body language to that of a careless Caribbean youth, sucking her teeth and gesticulating wildly, smiling coyly. She transforms into her mother by moving slowly, sitting often and speaking with that same lilt her mother employs. She even transforms into her father. What is most striking about these scenes is the minimalism—they take place on a stage with a single chair, where multiple figures of Marshall communicate with one another, embodying the variety of her family.

The film is a masterful work, despite its short length. The staccato language that literally leaps onto the screen (Green makes wonderful use of mixed media and radical film editing techniques) holds the audience captive, just as the terrible event that takes place holds the family captive. “Random” deserves four stars.

Gerhard Richter Painting

When entering the theatre, I had not the faintest of whom this iconoclastic and important German painter was, but by the end of the film I had an intimate understanding. Gerhard Richter is a creative deviant who has worked on everything from acrylic large format paintings, to glass work, to photorealistic paintings— proving a painter need not subscribe to merely one art form.

Corinna Belz directed this doc, which enters into Richter’s studio—a formerly exclusively private space—to film him as he creates his artistic masterpieces. I was not a fan of his work but clearly, I had much to learn.
The process of Richter painting is extraordinary. The film is minimalist—there is very little music, simple framing and minimal conversation on Richter’s behalf. Yet the man is clearly witty—the short amount of dialogue he does provide has the audience laughing. He mentions one gallery showing, when two young men approached him and told him, “Your work is bullshit.” He was pleased, he tells Belz, because the most anybody ever says is, “It is interesting,” and this was the first real emotion he received at a showing.

The actual creative process stirred up immense emotions in me. There is a lack of music, only the shuffle of newspapers as Richter walks back and forth in front of his large-format canvasses. There was also the sound of the electric mixer in the paint pot, the sounds of the brush gliding across the canvas, and the gentle “plop” of excess paint hitting the ground. His creative process flowed organically and brought to mind a slightly less crazed version of Victor Frankenstein as he births a simultaneously monstrous and beautiful creation.

Richter applied layers of paint in a seemingly haphazard way, stood and contemplated it, before adding a dash of blue here, a stripe of red there. What first appears to be some elementary-school level artwork transforms into deeply rich, layered and thoughtful canvasses. Richter may be well into his seventies but he wields ungainly and large pieces of straight-cut glass panes which are attached in between blocks of wood. He drags these massive trowels across his paintings, smearing the colours together and even sometimes adding new ones without his knowledge (on a white canvas, yellow paint appears that he claims “painted itself in” as he did not put it there).

The beauty of Richter’s process of creation is overwhelming. The close-up shots of him painting cover the entire screen—all you see is a small German man standing in front of a wall of colour. In the beginning of the film, Richter makes an interesting comment. He states (in 1966) that talking about painting is basically purposeless. Only words can describe themselves, and that painting expresses what words cannot. How wonderful and fitting, then, that Belz films Richter silently creating. This allows the paintings to speak for themselves, without words getting in the way. Gerhard Richter Painting deserves three stars.


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