The Gates



10 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26

This fascinating HBO feature documentary chronicles the 24-year struggle of Bulgarian-born experimental artists Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, to gain permission from the city of New York to install more than 7,500 orange fabric-draped arches (or "gates") throughout Central Park -- a lavish, stunning exhibit that was showcased from Feb. 12-27, 2005.

What makes "The Gates" particularly compelling is the fact that we're able to witness the protracted process, shot by filmmaker-cinematographer Albert Maysles, of Christo and Jeanne-Claude pitching and prodding officials and civic groups to allow for the temporary massive display beginning in 1979 in vain.

The artists wanted to document their quest, seeing it as much a part of the project as the work of art itself. Little did they know the long, difficult road they would be forced to travel before New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg abruptly changed course Jan. 22, 2003, and approved the project without further lobbying by the artists (who vowed to fund it themselves).

The Gates outdoor gallery would go on to become a rousing, seminal success that enthralled the thousands who flocked to snowy Central Park to witness it during its 16 days of display. It proved to be as majestic as the controversial artists had promised and about five times as expensive as first envisioned: about $21 million rather than the $4 million-$5 million estimated in '79.

But Christo and his wife paid for it all themselves. The skepticism of those who couldn't conceive of the project's value are juxtaposed in the film with the painstaking preparations, the wide-eyed reactions of those who see it up close and the endeavor's stirring interaction with the park itself.

Indeed, "The Gates" plays much of the time like a unique love poem to Manhattan and Central Park, insightfully capturing the oft-laborious ordeal of convincing a rigid and tunnel-visioned culture to think outside the box. That Christo and Jeanne-Claude finally are crowned as visionaries, rather than just a couple of heavily accented nut jobs, infuses the film with a spirited purpose that would otherwise have surely been lacking.