Sometimes when something is just temporary, when you know it’s not going to last, that’s when it becomes the most precious and the most sacred.
In this sense, earthworks are such a creation of the heart. Using the ground as a canvas, the crop artist creates a picture that is revealed aerially, for as long as Mother Nature cooperates.
“Earthwork” the movie is the true story of Stan Herd’s growth as a crop artist, which culminated in his tableau created on a piece of New York City property Donald Trump had bought. The land had become an apparent free dump site, filled with old tricycles, tires and basic garbage. While construction plans were negotiated, Trump wanted the site to be used for an artistic display.
Into this miasma Herd comes from Kansas to create his art – offering to do it for free and thereby beating out the rest of the competition.
Herd had a wife and son, but was already in financial trouble as a farmer. He had earned a little notoriety for his crop art hobby, but it was when he learned of Trump’s interest in creating a work of art on a piece of NYC property that he felt sure his new kind of artistic expression would finally gain the recognition deserved.
However, money problems followed him like a tail on a dog. His marriage began crashing and security issues at his creation site threatened to derail his entire project.
One of the most impressive acting aspects about this true story involves the indigents Herd encounters on the property he uses to creative his tableau. The homeless who already inhabit his site aren’t interested in his incursion or the construction of the Trump building. But sooner or later, a group of them want to work for him, appreciating his honesty, openness, industry, art and company.
One of these homeless, Lone Wolf, is played so well by James McDaniel that you forget this is a re-enactment. His body language is all he uses to communicate. He’s a peoplework, if you will, using his own body as a powerful expressive canvass.
The day Herd’s work is to be put on television, the one moment he will have it displayed and locked into immortal documentation, his live interview is bizarrely juxtaposed by one of the most famous murder cases of the 20th century. Just as he begins to answer a question and just as a helicopter comes above to shoot his creation for the national broadcasting station, all TV stations are re-routed to another helicopter view — OJ Simpson driving down the Santa Monica Freeway in his Ford Bronco, headed to Mexico with a wad of cash and a revolver.
John Hawkes plays Herd with uncanny simplicity and credibility. Though he’s a creative dreamer, lacking a little practicality and business savvy, he is likable.
This is a delightful, true story by a filmmaker who takes a very difficult subject, an earthwork that no longer exists, and recreates the circumstances of its development. In order to see the final result of Herd’s NYC creation, the filmmaker has not allowed it to be seen on his Web site. You have to see the movie.
That earthwork art must be viewed during a limited time period and primarily appreciated aerially makes it impractical and futile in some people’s eyes. But it is also a wonderful testament to art as a process and expression of both man and nature’s endless creativity and inspiration.
NYC Premiere: April 29, 2011, Angelika Film Center, NEW YORK CITY
18 West Houston St. New York, NY 10012
Director and Writer: Chris Ordal
Cast: John Hawkes, Bruce MacVittie, James McDaniel, Laura Kirk, Zach Grenier, Sam Greenlee and Chris Bachand
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