Pushwagner is quite a strange little documentary about a strange little man, but in the end, it packs more than a little punch. Pushwagner follows the notorious Norwegian artist Hariton Pushwagner (aka Terje Brofos) over a period of three years as he struggles with addictions to drugs and alcohol in his older age. He is still, however, as bombastic, amusing, absurd, and astute as he ever was. The portrait is one of a man battling his inner demons while still aiming to project the kind of over-the-top public persona that is only proper to an acclaimed artist of Pushwagner’s stature.

The film integrates beautiful, slow, meandering shots of Pushwagner’s particular brand of Norwegian pop art into bursts of self-contradicting wisdom from the artist himself. Shots of Pushwagner’s work linger on the screen for longer than one might think necessary, and the camera zooms painfully slowly into the image, but this allows the viewer to really contemplate Pushwagner’s detailed and intricate drawings with ease. The experience is almost akin to being in a gallery with the artist’s works.

However, the lingering shots are quickly interrupted by Pushwagner himself on-screen, ruminating on everything from his lost loves and dead friends, to his upcoming court battle with his former assistant over the rightful ownership of many of his works. In the end, Pushwagner leads the film rather than simply being its subject matter. This is evidenced by the particularly amusing opening sequence in which the artist aims to instruct the filmmakers on how exactly to frame the shot, what questions they should ask him, and how he plans to answer them. This is clearly a man whose public persona is an integral part of his reputation and even his art.

The film is not an easy one to watch; Pushwagner is a broken man, a soul in great disrepair, and the only medicines to which he can turn destroy him even more. But this highly personal and intimate portrait is a fascinating one. The film allows a rare kind of entry into the mind and existence of an embattled artist and his life and work. Highly recommended; a definite must-see for students and lovers of art and the larger-than-life psyches that create it.

Pushwagner screens on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 9:15 pm and Friday, May 4, 2012 at 11:30 pm. Check the Hot Docs website for details and tickets.

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