“Levitated Mass” tells the story of a really big rock — and the difficult task of moving it more than 100 miles through downtown streets of Southern California.
And it hooked me.
The Fresno Filmworks presentation plays Nov. 14 only at the Tower Theatre.
Directed by Doug Pray, the film is subtitled “The Story of Michael Heizer’s Monolitihic Sculpture,” and it’s more than just a travelogue about a 340-ton, 2-story high granite boulder. On one level it’s a breathless Valentine to Heizer from Pray, who cinematically gushes about the artist — known for his large-scale sculptural works that include “negative” sculptures dug into the Earth — in a tone best described as disciple gazing beatifically at a prophet.
There’s an interesting swirl of art history woven throughout, as we survey Heizer’s past monumental works and learn how he influenced artists following him.
And though it stays on something of a superficial level, the film’s foray into the philosophy of art raises some interesting questions. Is making an enormous boulder the centerpiece of a project really “art”? Or should the rock have been sculpted in some way, as some suggest in the film’s person-on-the-street interviews, to qualify as “artistic”?
To me, however, the most compelling part of the film is the Herculean task of transporting the rock to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose director, Michael Govan, raised the $10 million needed for the endeavor.
In ancient times, Egyptians built the pyramids, and we still marvel at how they were able to do it. The transport of the rock in “Levitated Mass” is a marvel, too.
The giant rock had to be moved in 2012 from a remote quarry in Riverside County through almost two dozen cities in several counties, which required a large amount of paperwork. The rock couldn’t go on freeways because it couldn’t fit beneath bridges and underpasses, so the enormous “truck” built to move it crept along for 11 nights toward the museum.
Tens of thousands of people turned out along the way to cheer the rock on its journey, which is absolutely endearing to watch in the film. Pray peppers it with comments from some of them, and it’s interesting how varied the responses are: Some see religious meaning (especially when the rock comes to an unplanned stop in front of a Church of the Rock). Others express disdain.
And some take a more thoughtful approach. “I think it’s amazing what we can do, what we can move,” says one bystander.
That sums it up pretty well. On my list of things to do: Get down to LACMA and meet the rock in person.