by Leslie Buchbinder
H.C. Westermann was enamored of the creative potential of tools. Within his hands, the tools performed alchemy, turning raw materials into objects of totemic power. As contemporary filmmakers, our toolbox has expanded to include 3D technology, which offers audiences the ideal conduit for engaging with the literal and metaphorical multi-dimensionality of Westermann’s works--imbued with humor, horror, absurdity, and exquisite beauty. Empathy requires the ability to see from another vantage point, beyond one’s own Cyclopean myopathy; 3D quite literally provides another dimension, & a unique perspective with which to see & experience a version of Cliff’s-eye-view. Our 3D film invites the viewer to take an empathic dive into this artist’s profoundly moving oeuvre & life.
Our filming techniques afford the viewer a visceral & immersive experience; by shooting Westermann’s sculptures within mirrored spaces, as well as against black backdrops, we create the illusion of infinity space that brings the viewer into a veritable Westermann-Land, where the artworks float within their own space & time. Westermann’s words, quoted directly from his prolific letters to friends & family, will carry the film’s narrative forth, without an external narrator; he will tell his own story, as spoken by a voice-over actor. The film also will feature acrobatic-theatrical scenes filmed in 3D that further the themes of our film about a man who not only was a professional acrobat who performed in the USO, but whose life was a constant balancing act, as he himself stated in a letter to his beloved sister, Martha: “I guess I’m relegated to always walking this tightrope, but this is the way it has to be.”
While ‘walking this tightrope’, Westermann did everything within his power to exert control over all that was within his purview: he sculpted his body, his artworks, his friendships, his house, his art-filled letters - but all within a world that he saw as constantly threatening to destroy him & his loved ones at myriad moments during his many years of near-death experiences as an active-duty marine in WWII & Korea; while navigating post-wars trauma; while contemplating nuclear annihilation during the Cold War; and while facing life’s existential quandaries.
We view our film’s protagonist as an Everyman, both ordinary & extraordinary, whose tightrope dance is one that we all perform. What makes Westermann so compelling, however, is the way in which he chose to face each of these threats to his body & mind. In Melville’s Moby Dick, a novel Westermann was fascinated by and read twice, the protagonist, Ishmael, is saved by a sculpted coffin that emerges from the sea, & serves as his life boat at the end of the novel. Westermann too was ‘saved’ by the ‘coffin-death ships’ he sculpted as part of his artistic body of work—one that kept him ‘afloat’. Our Everyman, Cliff, inspires via his exemplary way of carrying on with a life-force & artistic integrity that served as his way of continuing to walk life’s tightrope, sometimes shakily, but more times with grace, humor, empathy, and hope - in spite of all. The import of Westermann’s story seems to grow ever more poignant & urgent in a world filled with fear & despair. Our film invites you to find inspiration in Westermann’s journey, as he overcomes the horror and trauma of war by finding meaning, empathy, and hope via art.