The wonderful artworks of Isaiah Zagar are scattered all across South Philadelphia, and I should know because I've seen 'em hundreds of times. (Start at 4th & South Street!) Gigantic murals peppered with brightly colored tiles and thousands of mirror shards ... and when you step back from the massive murals (or if you peer in real close), Mr. Zagar's artworks hit you with all sorts of strange new details. I think that native Philadelphians probably take these exhibits for granted, but I think they're the coolest sort of art imaginable: Vibrant, emotional, perpetually evolving masterpieces.
But before last week, I had NO IDEA who created all these awesome pieces. Then I read the plot synopsis for a documentary called In a Dream. You're telling me that all these fantastic walls were done by one guy? Wow. Lovingly crafted by Isaiah's own son, In a Dream is easily one of the most "personal" documentaries I've ever had the pleasure to see. If you or I made a movie about our eccentric artist dad, it'd probably be a horror story or a warm-hearted white-wash, but director Jeremiah Zagar does a flawless job of documenting a man who is equal parts talented, lovable, and periodically (very) eccentric. Even if In a Dream were content to focus only on the long-running marriage between Isaiah and his devoted wife Julia (and their rehab-bound son), it'd still be a great little documentary...
...but then there's the artwork. I'm no art expert, and I'm not sure if Isaiah's works have ever been duly "recognized" by the city of Philadelphia -- but I just love the stuff. Not only is it powerfully colorful and simply beauitful to look at, but there's something about art that resides on a public street (and can actually be touched!) that makes it a little extra special. So as a big fan of Mr. Zagar's decidedly unique palette, I was fascinated to see how the man crafts his epic murals.
As a story about art and artists, In a Dream is soft-spoken, well-paced, and smoothly engrossing. As a portrait of a sweet but slightly fractured man, it's one of the most unexpectedly touching documentaries I've ever seen. Special kudos to son / filmmaker Jeremiah for not portraying his father as an "adorable kook" or a "mad genius" -- and also for delivering a low-budget documentary that (somehow) looks and sounds like a million bucks.
Oh, and just to give you a taste of Mr. Zagar's stuff:
Pretty cool, eh?
Photos courtesy of IsaiahZagar.org!