M. C. Escher: Journey To Infinity (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

M.C. Escher is best known for his tessellations and for his ‘Impossible’ structures. Strangely, he did not think of himself as an artist, but as a mathematician, not realising one can be more of the one if one is also the other. There is no narrator per se; this documentary is told entirely in the words of Escher himself from letters and diaries, along with comments by family, friends and admirers. One of the latter is Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Escher’s own words are voiced by Stephen Fry.

The film covers Escher’s entire career from early ‘realistic’ works through his branching out into more mathematical and surreal art, always in woodcuts, lithographs or drawings rather than paintings. Later, in his career, we see the complexities when some of these geometric patterns meet Nazi politics.

Escher’s work was adopted by hippies in the 1960s, done as posters in fluorescent colours intended to be seen under black light. Escher himself couldn’t understand what they saw in his work, since he saw his work as supremely rational and structured and the hippies as being opposed to all this.

One example of Escher’s influence on popular culture is shown as the ‘Penrose Stairs’ sequence in the film ‘Inception’. In the credits, Sir Roger Penrose is listed as the patron of the documentary. The Escher portrayal is titled ‘Ascending And Descending’, though it is often called just ‘Penrose Stairs’. Another Escher reference is the sequence from ‘Labyrinth’ copied from Escher’s ‘Relativity’, a lithograph showing staircases at various angles with contradictory gravities. A hint is also seen in ‘The Name Of The Rose’, though without the impossible physics. ‘Relativity’ seems to be a much more structured variant on his earlier ‘High And Low’ and ‘House Of Stairs’ and used later in ‘Convex And Concave’.

Escher himself summed up his work by saying, ‘[Other artists] they pursue beauty, I pursue wonder.’ Oh and you will definitely want to sit through the credits.

‘The Graphic Work Of M.C. Escher’ divides Escher’s major works into nine categories: ‘Regular Division Of A Plane’, ‘Unlimited Spaces’, ‘Spatial Rings And Spirals’, ‘Mirror Images’, ‘Inversion’, ‘Polyhedrons’, ‘Relativities’, ‘Conflict Flat-Spatial’ and ‘Impossible Buildings’.

Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.


© Mark R. Leeper.

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