DVD REVIEW: Edward James, Builder of Dreams

Edward James, Builder of Dreams
Directed by Avery Danziger

Buy it at Amazon!

Edward James, Builder of Dreams tells the fascinating account of the little known artist and collector who was as eccentric as he was rich. Edward was born into a life of proper English society and found himself rebelling and gravitating towards an untraditional life in the arts as a poet, financer, and later as a legitimate surrealist artist himself. After befriending creative giants like Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Rene Magritte, James worked towards becoming an accepted artist and poet with little success but in creating his opus sculpture garden entitled Los Pozas (the Pools) in the rain forest of Mexico he came into his own.

The documentary, directed by Avery Danziger and Sarah Stein, is an informative look at James’ life with interviews from James and those who knew him along with historic photographs and film clips. The film takes on the complete life of the artist, covering a pivotal time in history, from his youth with a cold, impersonal mother who was rumored to be the illegitimate daughter of King Edward VII (who made frequent visits to their sprawling home, West Dean) to his later life in Mexico building his monument among nature. The story itself is quite amazing with his obsessive habits, marriage to ballet dancer Tilly Losch (who denied him a sexual relationship), their later scandalous divorce, and his interaction with some of the finest minds of the 20th Century.

Where the documentary fails is in giving the audience all of the information because even with the depth of detail in the story, it still feels like an incomplete tale, especially in his later life, finances, and sexuality. Despite these omissions, the film is a revealing look at a man who was charismatic, creative, and inspirational with famed interactions like his visit to Sigmund Freud with Dali and his Oscar Wilde-like entertaining and wit.

The work at Los Pozas is really a major surrealist architectural and sculptural achievement with its unique forms taken from anatomy and nature, columns that give the illusion of support to the mountains, and stairways to the sky. The true highlight of the film is really Edward James’ character with his high, girlish voice and storytelling, but Los Pozas comes in a close second, making for a great learning experience. The documentary is an uplifting tale of a little known artist who was hugely influential to many of the most important artists in modern art and any artist, history buff, or creative type should check it out.

Tim Needles

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