'Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer': Berlin Review

Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer Still - H 2015

Dance-oriented doc never threatens to raise the barre

Jack Walsh's profile of the groundbreaking American dancer and filmmaker world-premiered in the Berlinale's Panorama section

As dancer and choreographer, Yvonne Rainer famously took the pedestrian and made it revolutionary — a trick achieved in reverse by Jack Walsh's adoring portrait of the octogenarian iconoclast. World-premiering at the Berlinale but clearly tailored mainly for small-screen play, Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer is an accessible, conversational and unswervingly conventional documentary which no one could ever confuse with Rainer's own avant-garde cinema offerings. A safe choice for nonfiction and LGBT festivals and arts-oriented TV channels, it offers a gentle immersion into the stormy waters of post-WWII American art.

A San Franciscan by birth, Rainer achieved national and international renown as part of the Judson Dance Theater in Greenwich Village between 1962 and 1964. Partially inspired by the theories of John Cage, Judson's cross-disciplinary approach quickly made waves. Walsh includes a snippet from a New York Times review of one performance, which approvingly notes that "there was hardly anything conventional about it."

After leaving Judson, Rainer developed the work which remains her signature piece, 1966's radically minimalist solo piece Trio A — presented here in full, in hypnotically silent monochrome. A veteran of tube-oriented documentaries, many on LGBT themes, Walsh is largely content to alternate between such clips and present-day talking-head interviewees, who place Rainer's unapologetically "difficult" oeuvre in context — the most articulate and illuminating of all being Rainer herself.

An artist long comfortable with the written and spoken word, Rainer comes across here as a flinty, inspiring and indefatigably questing practitioner, keen to explore her chosen fields to their maximum potential. Her no-nonsense charisma makes it easy to understand and forgive Feelings Are Facts' prevailing tone of cheerleading hagiography, even if the resulting film is infinitely cuddlier and softer than anything Rainer herself has ever devised.

While far from humorless, Rainer's output — with its playful manipulation of theories and Theory — often "demands close intellectual engagement," as the Times noted when reviewing her (now somewhat forgotten) 1996 feature Murder and MURDER. A little more expert analysis would have gone a long way here — likewise, we're left hungry for further material on Rainer's fascinating and eventful family background.

As it is, her visits to former childhood haunts help break up the monotony of a very "indoorsy" enterprise, with interviewees — including such eminences as Carolee Schneemann, B. Ruby Rich, Su Friedrich and Steve Paxton — near-invariably presented in residences of tastefully bohemian affluence. On the technical side, some of the clips and stills are only of laptop-standard definition — incongruous and inappropriate given the rigorous clarity of Rainer's steely, influential visions.

Producers: Jack Walsh, Christine Murray
Director / Screenwriter: Jack Walsh
Cinematographer: Marsha Kahm
Editors: Laurie Lezin-Schmidt, Bill Weber
Sales: Jack Walsh

No Rating, 83 minutes