Working with simple hand-held equipment and flirting with themes of love and mortality, Agnès traverses her country to examine the concept of gleaners, those who walk the fields after a harvest to salvage and make use of what’s left behind. The painting that inspired her journey is from 1857, but it’s the modern-day accounts of people who are still gleaning that really get you thinking about how much we waste. These intrepid souls don’t let grapes rot on the vine or copper tubing from old TVs go to the landfill. No way! And that’s a source of great pride for many modern-day gleaners.
We savored having Agnès introduce us to all these beautiful characters who can’t fathom why anyone would let good things be turned to trash. One particulary touching portrait was of a man with a master’s degree who chooses to eat what’s discarded from Paris’s bakeries and street markets while he works without pay to teach immigrants to read. And we loved her intimate portraits of artists who are inspired to work with ordinary, every-day discarded items.
As someone trying to understand her own obsession with nothing-new, this was a morning well spent. Nothing I’ve watched to date has gotten closer to the psychology of one person’s trash as another’s treasure. It’s treasure that provides, for some, the will to live, and for others, the ability to live as they choose.
It’s on Netflix Watch Instantly. I recommend wathing it. Instantly.
After spending the morning with Agnès and her friends, I couldn’t help but think of another documentary recently in theaters, Bill Cunningham New York. Bill has been photographing the style of the streets of New York for decades, and in this documentary, at age 84, he still takes off on his bike, wearing the functional blue smocks he purchases at the hardware store, and gets to it. Watch the documentary and you’ll marvel at the contrast between the complexity of his work and the modest simplicity of his lifestyle. He lives in what basically amounts to a closet with a cot because he’d rather have artistic freedom than money. Money, he explains, always has strings attached.
At the end of this one, you’ll want to hug everyone you see. You’ll thank goodness for the sheer knowledge that such a “happy and nice man” (as Roger Ebert put it) is able to not only exist but find his place in this crazy world.
Bill is my hero. While he takes great pains to capture women outside the tents at fashion week, he finds just as much to appreciate on a Sunday in the park or when an unexpected downpour has people resorting to gargbage bag ponchos, which he likens to giant roses. Who but this amazing man could find such beauty in such mundaneness? But once he points it out, it’s clear that he’s right and those roses were there all along, waiting for anyone sensitive enough to notice them. Listen to his voice on this New York Times video and sense the joy he takes in his work, in simply getting out every day to experience what’s going on around him. His laughter as he recalls the nearly-nude bikers is priceless. Bill delights in what’s free to him, gathering expereinces and exposures, capturing what would otherwise go unnoticed or unappreciated. Bill doesn’t believe in waste. Bill’s a gleaner.
Bill and the gleaners have other commonalities. They’ve consciously chosen freedom over creature comforts. They’ve decided they’d rather live according to their own rules, knowing that means not having the traditional trappings of success: home, cars, expensive possessions. They’re also willing to live without meeting traditional definitions of success, knowing many people will think they’re crazy. It’s really about priorities, isn’t it?
So there. Two movies for your required watching list, tied together by the concept of appreciating all around you, letting nothing go to waste, and not caring what people will think. Now I’m going to get off my computer, get to the park, and glean all I can from the remainder of this glorious Summer in Brooklyn day with my loving and loved Creighton.
That’s right. we are gleaners, too, and we aspire to celebrate all who glean.
left of image: a poor digital representation of Jean-François Millet’s painting “Des glaneuses,” which lives in in Paris’s Musée d’Orsay; right of image: Bill Cunningham wearing his trademark blue, capturing something the rest of us would probably take for granted until he brings it to our attention