Matt Wolf Dusts Off Musical Wunderkind

The New Issue: Arthur Russell

An unsung hero of aural innovation, Arthur Russell began making musical waves in the early 1970s. Fresh to New York from Iowa, by way of San Francisco, Russell threw himself into the burgeoning downtown music scene. Collaborating with the likes of Phillip Glass, Allen Ginsberg and David Byrne, Russell collapsed the barriers between classic and dance. His cello and synthesizer made beautiful music. No matter how experimental and heady, however, Russell’s sound remains remarkable accessible. It’s as fit for the disco queen as for the theorist.

Once one of the most relevant music makers of the downtown scene, Russell fell off the radar after his 1992 AIDS-related death. It would seem, however, that he’s making a comeback. Communications giant T-Mobile and Swedish artist Johanna Billing both employed Russell’s spirit for their own purposes: T-Mobile used 1984’s “This is How We Walk On The Moon” in a commercial and Billing made a short of the same name. In addition to these blips, our old friend Matt Wolf’s this close to completing a documentary on Russell.

When we last wrote on Wolf, we discussed the New York filmmaker’s wry, at times violent look at mainstream gay culture. His shorts gave viewers startlingly amusing looks at Gianni Versace‘s killer, Andrew Cunanan, and gay artist and activist David Wojnarowicz. Though he examined real people and real events, Wolf made sure to include some unreal elements. For example, the Wojnarowicz short, Smalltown Boys, featured Wojnarowicz’s fictitious, artificially inseminated lesbian daughter, Sarah.

The Arthur Russell project marks Wolf’s first bite into pure documentary storytelling. This time around, then, our editor picked Wolf’s mind on the categorical transition, how Russell’s affected him and how Wolf’s feeling about gays on film…