Not widely known in life, musician Arthur Russell epitomized much of NYC’s downtown scene in the late-’70s and ’80s by introducing disco to the avant-garde. Little footage remains of him, but the just-released DVD, Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, trains a sympathetic spotlight on this underappreciated innovator.
Far from a conventional biopic, the gorgeous, washed-out cinematic montages and elliptical dramatic recreations give rise to a tender, sad love story set at the dawn of the AIDS crisis. The soundtrack draws from previously unheard, back-catalog material, making it essential for both die-hard fans and those new to Russell’s unique and achingly beautiful work. And some of Russell’s most prominent fans, including Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg, and Jens Lekman pay tribute to the musician. However, by not relying on gratuitous praise from Russell’s many collaborators and fans, director Matt Wolf’s film embodies the ambition and grace of its subject.