Burden (4 stars)


Detailed and respectful documentary about one-of-a-kind artist Chris Burden

Chris Burden was the kind of artist who had little interest in having his work displayed above the mantelpieces of the wealthy. Instead, he pushed the limits in terms of performance, living in the tight space of his college locker for one project, getting shot in the arm by a rifle for another. The shock value of Burden's work won him headlines, but also prompted personal troubles that blocked his creative urges.

Co-directors Richard Dewey and Timothy Marrinan were in the process of making this detailed account of Burden's life when their subject died. Admirably, they've ploughed a careful, respectful path that avoids sentimentality until the final stretch. Burden had made sure that his art was rigorously documented at the time, so there's a rich vein of footage and interviews to draw on, allowing a strictly factual account of the artist and his developing body of work.

If there's a weakness to this documentary, it's that the stuffy world of collectors that Burden's original art was created to rebel against isn't presented as enough of a counterpoint. Regular interjections from an amusingly lugubrious Brian Sewell dismiss Burden as an attention-seeker, but hardly seem suffocating enough to provoke such an extreme reaction.

Burden's life had a spectacular arc; from a self-absorbed depressive, alone in the desert with his Uzi, he somehow reconnected with the outside world in a remarkable way, and footage of Burden working on late projects such as Metropolis II, or Urban Light provide a wonderful pay-off. Dewey and Marrinan's documentary features multiple luminaries offering testimony to the quality of the art in question – from Marina Abramović to John McEnroe – but what makes this work as cinema is that Burden's creations have such visual power. The artist may be gone but, on the screen, he lives forever.

Limited release from Fri 5 May.


  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 28min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Tim Marrinan, Richard Dewey
  • Cast: Chris Burden, Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci
  • UK release: 5 May 2017

Documentary about artist Chris Burden, whose works involved (among other things) getting shot in the arm with a rifle. Burden died during the making of the film and it’s a careful and respectful account that draws on his own rich documentary archive to display his work’s sheer visual power.

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