David & Albert Maysles
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source Plexifilm DVD
Features: 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude
Reviews: Christo’s Valley Curtain
Reviews: Christo in Paris
Running Fence documents Christo’s 1978 work to erect a fabric barrier, 24 miles long and 18 feet high, in the coast hills of northern California (he would later return to a similar environment in his Umbrellas project). This is one of Christo’s more extensive works, and as with many of his large-scale projects requires county and state legal approval. In every case this approval is difficult and time-consuming.
Christo lobbies extensively in each project the Maysles have covered. He has here drawn specifically the route of the running fence, and visits the landowners to show them drawings and ask for unofficial permission. Christo’s ideas are abstractly impressive, but his speech has little clarity. The rural Californians are polite to this stranger, and appropriately suspicious, perhaps mostly so as this fence is not designed to enclose anything.
At a county hearing citizens debate the purpose, potential harm, and cost of the project. Each of Christo’s works is temporary (they usually last two weeks before their removal) and self-financed — it is difficult to understand for many that there is no interest in profit. This and every legal debate Christo encounters funnels down to the nature of his work. This is perpetual and always subjective; one man ridicules the idea of the fence, another woman remarkably analogizes the work to the temporary “masterpieces” she crafts in her kitchen. Although these are the most polarized examples, the public’s responses to Christo’s proposals are not usually related to his own intentions, which are usually more simplified.
The construction of the fence requires several laborers, and Christo running between them all, dressed in thick glasses, mulleted, and in a hard-hat. This is the endearing image of the Bulgarian-born Christo, as a frantic artist commanding his crew with an accent that seems to intensify with volume.
The state is informed of the running fence project during its production, and denies permission to end the fence in the Pacific Ocean. This warning ignored, the fence is constructed with haste as Jeanne-Claude (the wife and administrative half of Christo’s team) fields a swarm of threats that Christo will be charged and the fence will be removed. The fence is completed, however, and this hurry of legal imposition becomes distracted by the finality of the project. The end of the film is composed of silent, aerial shots of the completed work. At this point, suspicion dissolves to awe; it is an extraordinary and unnaturally beautiful circumstance. Expectedly, the charges against Christo were dropped.