Kevin Schreck’s “Persistence of Vision” is about folly, perseverance, beauty and finally, yes, vision. The vision belongs to animator Richard Williams, who, like Jacques Tati with his life-changing, life-smashing “Playtime,” devoted himself to a self-funded, handmade masterwork, “The Thief and the Cobbler” that drained his fortunes and the patience of all those around him across nearly three decades. Tati finished “Playtime,” even as it finished him as the perfectionist filmmaker he always hoped to be. In the case of Schreck’s modest documentary, Williams declined to participate in the film, apparently unwilling to revisit those many lost years. Other figures testify to his dogged, workaholic ways. Williams made other work in later years, including supervision of the animation of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The success of that film led its studio to offer a pipeline of millions of dollars to Williams, but it all came to naught, and was seized by its completion bond company. Schreck’s grab-bag of animation tests, near-finished sequences and spirited anecdotes almost make it for its student-level means. This may be one of its few screenings; at last report, the rights to the material onscreen had been cleared. Film scholar Kristin Thompson writes, “Schreck’s film hints at a masterpiece that was mutilated and yet also suggests that the masterpiece itself was an elusive vision that was problematic from the start.” Like the recent release of “Room 237,” which harvests vast swathes from Kubrick movies, not limited to “The Shining,” she notes, “Kevin explained… that he cannot release the film into theaters (or presumably on DVD or VOD). It contains extensive clips of copyrighted material, including the various credits sequences and ads by Williams’ studio, short segments from Aladdin and other Hollywood films, as well as the ‘Thief and the Cobbler’ in its version released by Miramax.” Hopefully, she adds, “Given the historical and critical nature of Kevin’s film, it seems possible that such clips could be justified as fair use.” 78m. (Ray Pride)
“Persistence of Vision” plays Friday-Sunday at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.