For such a rich subject, films about art and the people that make it all too often feel either forced and flat or ridiculously over the top. Better, usually, to take the documentary route, and let the art speak for itself.
That’s the course taken by directors Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey, whose film Burden — screening this week at the Little Cinema in the Berkshire Museum — takes a good long look at the life and times of performance and installation artist Chris Burden. Burden is the sort of artist whose work — particularly the early performance work that made his name — is polarizing. In his 1971 piece Shoot, made during our involvement in the Vietnam War, an assistant shot him in the arm with a .22 caliber rifle, forcing viewers to confront violence and its fallout first-hand.
Burden would not stay so divisive. His later career was marked by a shift away from performance and toward sculptural installations — notably Urban Light, the 200-plus antique streetlight assemblage installed at the entry of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — and he took a professorship at UCLA.
As they cover the artist’s private and public lives, Marrinan and Dewey mix still striking footage of his early performances with later film shot at his Topanga Canyon studio, where Burden would spend his final years — he passed away in 2015 after being diagnosed with melanoma during filming of the documentary. In all, it is a potent reminder that no artist can be defined by a single work, even if it did leave a scar.
Burden: Screening Friday-Monday, 7 p.m. (and 1:30 p.m. on Monday, too). $5-$7.50. Berkshire Museum’s Little Cinema, 39 South St., Pittsfield. (413) 443-7171, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also this week: Two old fan favorites make their return to area screens. Quentin Tarantino’s name-making caper film Reservoir Dogs comes to Amherst Cinema on Friday night for a 9:45 p.m. show. Better to call it a caper-fallout film though; the crime is never shown, leaving the focus on the aftermath, when the band of thieves realize that one of them is an informant. Bloody, with a bloody good soundtrack, it set the template for a new kind of pop-crime moviemaking. And director Luc Besson’s sci-fi favorite The Fifth Element celebrates its 20th anniversary with shows at Cinemark theaters around the Valley. The cult classic stars Bruce Willis as a 23rd-Century cab driver who picks up a wild fare who just might be destined to save the world. Milla Jovovich co-stars as a scantily clad world-saver.
Reservoir Dogs: Friday, 9:45 p.m., Amherst Cinema.
The Fifth Element: Sunday and Wednesday at Cinemark theaters across the Valley.
Don’t miss: One of Wired magazine’s regular contributing artists is illustrator Christoph Niemann, whose wry and inventive drawings can tell a full story in just a few well drawn lines. He is also the subject of episode 1 of Abstract: The Art of Design, a new series produced by and now available to stream on Netflix. Though you may not recognize Niemann’s name, you will likely know his work — if not from Wired, then from his New Yorker covers, or his must-follow Instagram feed (@abstractsunday), or some other cultural touchstone. For anyone interested in how the mind of an artist works — later episodes feature a footwear designer, a photographer, and a stage designer, among others — it’s a great series.
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.