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Keeping Art Alive

Tim Rollins & kids
Beauty in the Bronx: Tim Rollins puts his creative energy into teaching art students in the South Bronx in "Kids of Survival."

For Tim Rollins' kids, creation is survival

By Richard von Busack

SAN FRANCISCO filmmakers Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine's new documentary, Kids of Survival, takes a close look at Tim Rollins' celebrated South Bronx art studio, in which the teacher bullies and praises a group of fatherless children into disciplining themselves and creating on canvas. As we see them, the teenage students are completing a series of works, eviscerating classics like The Scarlet Letter, pasting the pages onto a canvas and then decorating the collage. Rollins, who could be played by Bruno Kirby if Hollywood ever gets its hands on this story, is an exacting martinet of a teacher who never lets his students get away with excuses. He is fighting the gravity of the South Bronx, where the local high schools have a 70 percent dropout rate.

Watching Rollins putting a student's portfolio on the sidewalk after he turns up absent one too many times, one can easily sense his dedication and tough love. Watching the students draw, there's also no question about either their talent or their seriousness--or that the art world tends to pigeonhole them, to view them in the light of their street credibility instead of their talent. Then again, there are a few questions left unanswered: Do the students realize that once they're through art school, which Rollins is badgering them into, they may well face the same poverty they escaped, though admittedly a more fashionable form of it? And why are his classes all male? The uncritical look at Rollins is moderated only by a minute's worth of talking-head shots of critics worried about the patriarchal values and the Eurocentric books used for source material. These critiques, though, seem based on the familiar scheme of pondering the PC: "It's not what I think that matters, but what will other people think?" The visuals and sound of Kids of Survival aren't improved by a theatrical exhibition, and the documentary would probably play better on TV.

Kids of Survival (Unrated; 87 min.), a documentary by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine.

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From the October 31-November 6, 1996 issue of Metro

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