Review (of sorts): The Seasons in Quincy

This past Tuesday, my roommate and I went to see a screening of The Seasons in Quincy, an art film focusing on the life and philosophy of author John Berger, at the Carnegie Museum of Art. We went mainly because it was a film produced (and partially directed) by Tilda Swinton—chief goddess of everything (except Doctor Strange, of course, though I’ve largely made peace with my problematic fave in this instance*)—who attended the screening, introduced the film, and participated in a post-screening Q&A.

The film was kind of a mixed bag, something that is not uncommon in an anthology film. Originally it was intended to be a singular short film, but the project ultimately morphed into an anthology of four films. The first, itself the original short film, was easily the best, and I suspect that the following three may have been put together somewhat on the fly in attempt to draw the aged John Berger (turning 90 this year) onto something new to occupy his mind in the aftermath of the death of his wife. For this project was an act of love, and that quality—a particular component of the first and fourth films, which focused on the multiple facets of Swinton and Berger’s enduring friendship—was utterly fascinating to me.

It was clear that The Seasons in Quincy was made largely because Tilda Swinton loves John Berger (they’ve been friends and colleagues for decades) and wanted to do something to both celebrate and memorialize her time with him. In many ways—and at one point Swinton even admitted—the film itself was an afterthought. The conversation between Berger and the people in the film with him, his interactions with his family, friends, and colleagues, that was the art object. The film itself was merely the record of something fundamentally ephemeral in nature. In the tradition of performances artists like Chris Burden, Kusuma Yayoi, and Joseph Beuys, the happening (in this case the exchange of fellowship) was the work of art. Berger’s performance of authenticity—authenticity as performed, performed authenticity (whatever that is)—that was the focal point. And that was extremely interesting to me.

During the post-screening Q&A, Swinton and filmmaking partner Colin MacCabe, a professor of English and Film at the University of Pittsburgh, went so far as to say that often, for people working in films, the pleasure is in the process, and the end product almost doesn’t matter. You hope it’s good, of course. You hope it resonates. But even if it doesn’t, you still have the experience, and—as this film makes clear—it is the experience that is rewarding.

A worthy motto for creative practice.

Learn more about The Seasons in Quincy here.

* I’m not sure if I’ve made enough peace with it to actually pay money to see the film in theaters, however. The jury is still very much out on that.

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