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Originally published Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 3:33 PM

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Movie review

'The Windmill Movie': Putting the finishing touches on an artist's self-portrait

"The Windmill Movie" — part documentary, part autobiography — is a unique portrait of independent filmmaker Richard P. Rogers, assembled after his death by a former student, Alexander Olch.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

"The Windmill Movie," a documentary directed by Alexander Olch. 82 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains profanity, nudity). Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday; see Page 17.

Director appearance: Olch will present "The Windmill Movie" and "Quarry" today and Saturday, with a discussion after the 7 p.m. screening today.

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Part documentary, part autobiography, this unique portrait of independent filmmaker Richard P. Rogers was assembled after his death by a former student, Alexander Olch.

Rogers' longtime friend, Wallace Shawn, briefly appears in fictionalized episodes as Rogers, who always seemed to be questioning the meaning of the movies he shot over a period of several decades. Rogers dabbled in television, both commercial and PBS.

When he died of cancer in 2001, Rogers, who was 57, had completed 18 films but left behind an unfinished autobiography on film and tape. His own father got him started by recording family events on 8 mm, and these precious clips add up to considerably more than a stranger's home movies.

Rogers' widow, Susan Meiselas, encouraged Olch to go through many stowed-away reels and draw the material into a kind of narrative. Although the format will be familiar to fans of "Tarnation" and "Capturing the Friedmans," the result comes closer to Fellini's autobiographical "8 ½."

Like Fellini's frustrated movie-director hero, Rogers honors his muses while struggling to find a way to communicate his feelings. He wonders if this filmed self-analysis is just a form of autoerotism, or if it's "a little New Age-y," or if he should feel guilty about being privileged enough to spend summers in the Hamptons.

In the end, he either ran out of time or (more likely) couldn't find a compelling way to put these thoughts together on film. Olch ends up playing the ruthless compiler, weighing and discarding plenty of footage but more than making do with what's left.

The final scenes, of Rogers' last-minute marriage to Susan and his disapproving mother battling another form of cancer, are touching but never mawkish. They're also reason enough for this singular portrait of a self-doubting artist.

"The Windmill Movie" will be shown with one of Rogers' shorts, "Quarry" (1970), a startlingly beautiful black-and-white study of kids turning a stone quarry into a swimming and diving pool.

John Hartl:

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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