The Heart of Bruno Wizard
Directed by Elisabeth Rasmussen
The lyric repeated with unintended irony over the end credits of The Heart of Bruno Wizard has the eponymous rock star sing, “What does it matter in the scheme of things?” The question is applicable to this debut feature by filmmaker Elisabeth Rasmussen; conceivably a learned fan of the 70s underground punk movement that fostered such acts as Mr. Wizard’s subversive The Homosexuals, Rasmussen has turned in an admiring tribute to an admittedly charismatic though hardly royal musical figure, without explicitly detailing any sound reason as to how his documenting is truly warranted.
The documentary begins with a run-through of the free-spirited underground scene that permeated London in the 70s and 80s, taking us through to the present day where we encounter many of those characters of old profess “all of us are still true to ourselves”, whilst wrapped up in rather expensive-looking coats. Interviewees are often framed haphazardly; some slumped in front of their radiator as in a home movie, others sharing the repeated backdrop of an unremarkable Warren Street front door, whose interior or larger exterior we are denied witness.
Bruno’s ethos is to “go to sleep as an artist, and wake up as an artist”, which is an undeniably sound sentiment. We gain access to his many complementary sides: the rock star, the activist – he protests on behalf of Pussy Riot outside the Russian Embassy – and the obligatory banal, ‘human’ side that boils the kettle, makes the bed and observes the evening news. Wizard also suffers through homelessness and a life-threatening health scare, perils that run like a red nerve under the surface of the film, striking at the core of his immortal punk persona and foregrounding the ‘heart’ of the film’s title.
“If Bruno Wizard had gone more mainstream, he wouldn’t be Bruno Wizard,” claims a close comrade. Strangely, aside from these friends and relics from a time gone by, we never really see any younger fans attest to his greatness – with the one exception of a particularly overzealous and possibly drunk young gentleman shown fawning over the elderly rock star after a gig.
Still, there’s plenty to like about Wizard – if this film is interrogating the true nature of one chosen individual, then it concludes on the virtues of existing on the underside and healing from life’s wounds through art. Wizard is undoubtedly a perfect case study for this trajectory; although, aside from fitting that particular mould, he really only comes across as situated inside of a movement that defined or facilitated his essence, and not the other way round. There’s no sense here that Wizard was the originator or revolutionary he or Rasmussen want us to believe him to be. The old man tries his best – it’s a commendable effort to persuade of one’s status and maintain an aura of humility – but the overriding task ultimately falls to Rasmussen, to convince us not only why this man is so important, but also subtly infer why he means so much in her own eyes. On both those terms, the filmmaker falls short of a satisfying answer.