Review: Escher – Journey into Infinity

Tthe first complete feature documentary about Dutch graphic artist, whose massive body of work continues to influence popular culture to this day

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Told mainly in Escher’s own words, with Stephen Fry giving voice to the artist as he reads diary extracts, letters and lectures, the documentary Escher: Journey Into Infinity also features interviews with his children, and with Graham Nash – from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – an Escher super-fan and collector.

An array of old photographs and film footage, alongside a lot of Escher’s work and many examples of how it’s influenced popular culture throughout the decades, creates a rich visual tapestry in the film. Though not necessarily highly regarded as an artist or designer in his day, this film does a great job of highlighting his influence on everything from tattoos and book covers to movies, including the fantasy film Labyrinth and Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

The documentary, directed and produced by Robin Lutz, zips sometimes too hastily through Escher’s life, including his childhood in the Netherlands, his travels in Italy and Spain – a great influence – and the troubled years of the Second World War. A significant portion of the film is given over to Escher’s artistic thinking. Such a heavy focus on the art rather than the man means this film feels more like a celebration than exploration. It would have been interesting to learn, for example, why Escher’s never-ending staircases and repeating patterns became such a strong cultural presence, enduring to this day.

Bar the fact that he was married, had three children and didn’t much care for fascists, we don’t learn a great deal about the artist as a grown man other than a fascinating insight into Escher’s reaction to his popularity in his later years. He dismisses an invitation by Mick Jagger to design a Rolling Stones album cover and seems baffled as to why his work is so popular among the youth of the 1960s generation. He’s also clearly annoyed at the commercialisation of his work that seems to run rampant without his permission, as copies of work start appearing on lurid posters pinned to many a teenager’s wall.

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