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Movie Review: The Meaning of Artistic Genius In a Dream

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What does it mean to be an artist? What does it take to be an artist and what does it take to live with an artist? This warm and touching documentary is about mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar and his wife, Julia, and their family as filmed by their youngest son, Jeremiah Zagar.

We've seen artists on the edge of self-destruction, with their loutish, drunken behavior such as Ed Harris's 2000 biographical movie Pollock on Jackson Pollock and we've even seen artists who were on the edge of sanity such as the 1956 biographical movie Lust for Life about Vincent Van Gogh.

In this case, we have a man who has revived an area of Philadelphia by building mosaics — beautiful, colorful, mysterious, autobiographical mosaics, for the last 30 years. We learn about Isaiah's bout with mental problems, his victimization by a pedophile, his adultery. We also see his elder son, Ezekial, and his marriage and then his growing problem with drugs. Isaiah's mosaics are all personal and about his family.

Unlike many studies of artists, we get to learn about the other side — what his wife feels. In art history classes while we might learn about Paul Gaugin, we seldom hear about the wife and children he deserted. In this movie, we get to see the anger, disappointment, and pain of the wife. And we also get to see how important the family is to Isaiah. In this respect, we have a fuller biography of an artist.

Yet like many biographical movies, particularly small documentaries, this movie doesn't give us a proper perspective. We do not know how Zagar's mosaics fit within the world of art in the nation and internationally. There is little critical review.

Still this movie is well worth seeing. Isaiah and his wife, Julia, are able to visualize what can be and create something beautiful in what is an undesirable place. In these hard economic times, where many have lost hope, this movie, In a Dream, can inspire us to envision what one person can do to help a city or community be reborn.

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