Is art just decoration, or can it have an impact on politics and life? In Angel Applicant, artist/filmmaker Ken August Meyer explores the answers by interweaving two stories, one from the 1930s and one going on now.
Angel Applicant had its world premiere at this year’s SXSW Conference and won the Documentary Feature Award. The conference ran March 10-19 in Austin.
A Story Within
Prior to the screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Lamar, the filmmaker spoke briefly about the long process of creating the film. The SXSW moderator promised a Q&A after the film. I wasn’t really sure what I was about to see.
As I watched the film, I was amazed at how the filmmaker got so deeply invested into the feelings and emotions of the man who was the subject. His story was profoundly emotional and moving. It was only when the Q&A began that I realized that the film was autobiographical. Ken Meyer began a film that he wasn’t sure he would live to see the end of.
The first story belongs to Meyer. Meyer was an art director who studied art and design. An artist, of course, needs control of his hands. Slowly, he began to notice something happening to his body.
Meyer was the victim of systemic scleroderma. This disease slowly causes the skin and organs of the body to harden and shrink. Meyer’s hands began to turn into claw-like extensions, with fingers he could barely move. Doctors have treatments for scleroderma, but no cure.
As the disease began to affect his internal organs, Meyer began to have trouble breathing, and his lungs became progressively less able to convert the air to oxygen.
As he struggled to deal with this horrible situation, Meyer discovered a source of inspiration, and that is the second story.
The Second Story
Meyer found out that an artist from the 1930s whom he greatly admired had also suffered from scleroderma. Meyer had a book documenting the paintings of Paul Klee, which showed the progression of his paintings over time.
The film tells Klee’s story in parallel with Meyer’s. Beyond the crippling disease, Klee had yet an additional challenge.
Paul Klee was a member of the German Bauhaus Movement. The Bauhaus, a school of architecture, design and applied arts, began in 1919. By the 1930s, it had achieved worldwide influence in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.
So why was this a problem for Klee? Hitler did not like modern art.
The film shows Hitler’s attack on the Bauhaus in 1933. Klee fled to Switzerland, where he continued his artistic career, but discovered he had been stricken with scleroderma. “Angel Applicant” was the title of Klee’s last painting.
The film details how Meyer achieved inspiration and strength for his struggle by studying Klee’s life and work. Ultimately, Meyer must face a final hurtle: having a dual lung transplant.
Angel Applicant, and the lives it documents, carry the message that creativity can help overcome tremendous challenges and inspire life.
To find out more about SXSW and how to attend in upcoming years check its website. The festival also shares highlights of previous years’ speakers and events online.