Art and Craft tells the story a man named Mark Landis. Landis is a very peculiar man, a diagnosed schizophrenic who live alone in his deceased mother’s house. He’s a also a great forger and spends his free time forging great works of art and then donating them to various museums around the USA, fooling people that they’re the real thing. But as he’s just giving them away he’s in a grey area as to being a criminal or not. He seems to be doing it for the fun of it and just because he can! Alongside Landis’ story we also follow one of the people he’s deceived and his mission of trying to get Landis to stop what he’s doing.
Mark Landis has, so to speak, mastered the art of deception. And apparently he’s learned it from watching movies and tv. One of the things he does sometimes is to disguise himself as a priest when he’s giving away his forgeries. And how did he learn how to fake being a priest? Well, from an old TV show called Father Brown about a crime-solving padre!
In fact much of Landis’s behaviour is copied from tv and movies. He spouts words of wisdom that turn out to be phrases he heard on television and he even smokes cigarettes like they do in the movies. You could say the man has no real personality, that everything he does is a copy of something else. But in fact, he’s quite the personality. And we aren’t all just copying each other’s behaviour?
Art and Craft is not exactly a stylish documentary, it’s relatively straightforward and shot on low quality digital cameras, but it’s also not your typical “Talking heads” documentary. It flows nicely for the most part and the filmmakers do try to add some visual touch with some lovely, symmetrically framed montages of the neighborhood Landis lives in. The filmmakers also had the good sense of having their subjects usually be doing something while they’re talking, instead of the usual “talking heads” scenario.
Art and Craft still has a slightly TV-ish feel to it and might have worked better as an hour-long TV special. Some of it feels a little padded and even repetitive. It also might have been a bit more probing and there are some unanswered questions (it would have been nice to know a little more about Landis’ past). But for the most part it holds your attention and the material is always fascinating. It’s a portrait of one strange man as well as a sort-of meditation on the meaning of art and what makes an artist and how art and craft are in many ways the same thing.
The Good: Mark Landis is a true anti-hero and a wonderfully weird “protagonist”.
The Bad: It might have worked better as an hour-long tv show, feeling slightly padded and repetitive at times.
The Deceptive: Landis is such a deceptor that at one point you even start thinking his deceased mother might actually not be dead.