Showing Up is a conversation about art unto itself. It does not require more text than what is in the film. It is a self-complete discourse about the process of creating art, showing art, and then going back and creating some more art. There is a novelty in that, as is present in all of Kelly Reichardt’s films, wherein they are studies of themselves. Her movies are internal like a good novel but the on-screen exposition of the ideas is always richly self-reflexive. Reichardt’s filmography is deeply rewarding as a collective text on the artist at work. Showing Up enters this ongoing conversation about films with the measured tone of a meditation.
The moments in the film that most exude why it is first-class filmmaking are the quiet ones. Moments where we just sit with an artist at their station. They do not find anything revelatory in creating their art, exactly, but they are deeply immersed in the process, while the pace is decidedly unhurried, so often just set down beside their work. Let us make a movie in the exact way the artist works, Reichardt seems to state, there is not even any form to conform to here, just footage that breathes and lives naturally adjacent to its subjects.
There is such a deep satisfaction in watching. The movies too often are absorbed in some idea of exposition or that they must hold an audience’s attention but the most absorbing thing they can actually do is to allow us to watch. To watch as Michelle Williams’ Lizzy creates art. Sometimes it just doesn’t come together. She is a sculptor and even when she sculpts a suitable object, sometimes it goes into the fire and comes out burnt. The artist doesn’t always succeed and there is not even an end goal to making the art. The neutrality is the point here: when we make something and show it to others, the process is complete. How we make it and who we show it to matters but that is the end of the artist’s conversation.
That’s exactly how the film feels: Kelly Reichardt has made her movie and shown it to us with the many steps in-between of making a movie and now that circle is complete. There are complications for the artist, always, of course, and that is also what Showing Up is about. Even amidst the familial drama and the ever-shifting circumstances of life, the artist creates. Showing Up is, poignantly, also about the moments between the processes and what happens when we are not making art. While an artist might dream that they just make art in the most ideal of processes, it does not always go that way. For Lizzy, she worries about her family and how she can’t get any hot water at her apartment. But then she is still a sculptor and can create the beauty she does not experience in any interpersonal dynamic until one might emerge, as it can only happen after the cycle of making the art has ended.
It is hard to make a gorgeous movie without any superfluous aspects or ornamentation but Kelly Reichardt is the best working filmmaker we have who is doing this on a consistent movie-by-movie basis. Her films, still, are imbued with style and genuine curiosity for the characters in them. As is the trend in Reichardt’s works, after her debut feature shot in her native Southeastern section of America, the film is also tenderly about and informed by the Pacific Northwest. Reichardt’s quiet visual poetry sings for the natural calm-going beauty of the region. These are tender evocations built out of an understood sense of place and how the people in this territory live their lives. If you are from the region, all of her films are like watching someone you know, and often yourself, as you are a product of nature, too, and the films understand what that can mean about a person. It’s not even about reliability or the function of our need to be represented by the screen, but a deep understanding of what art can be and how making it is about the people who make it but also the people they show it to. That is a complete conversation.