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Movie Review: Scrap

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 6, 2012

Movie poster featuring artists Jim Bishop and Tom Every

Ah, the indomitable American spirit: Expressed to its fullest, it can brand one either a genius or a lunatic, while a lucky few can be branded both. Watching Scrap, a documentary directed by Paul von Stoetzel, it’s hard to tell into which category Jim Bishop and Tom Every fall.

These two men don’t know each other — or, at least, the film doesn’t make that connection — but they both share the same dream: To singlehandedly build enormous works of art.

For Bishop, that is Bishop Castle, a massive stone structure he has built entirely by himself in the wilds of Colorado. In Wisconsin, Every has constructed the Foreverton, a multi-ton sculpture made entirely out of scrap metal. Both pieces are both completely different in aesthetic, material and intent, but the end results produce the same sort of awe and terror.

The same can pretty much be said about their creators. Both men have different inspirations and goals, as well as seemingly different personalities. Bishop comes across as a raving lunatic, which is not an insult as that’s the public persona he’s worked very hard at cultivating. On the other end of the personality spectrum, Every is subdued and thoughtful.

But as the documentary slowly reveals these two men and their life’s work, the similarities start to poke through. Most of these similarities are to be expected, such as planning such impossible projects comes with a complete disregard for figuring out the proper financial backing to make them happen. If one figured out the finances of how such things work, one probably wouldn’t embark on these projects to begin with. (Much the same can be said of filmmaking.)

Also, completely devoting oneself to all-consuming artworks such as these is bound to cause conflict with personal relationships. Both Bishop and Every appear to have complex, not-very-close relationships with their adult male sons, even as those sons appear willing to do anything to make their dads’ dreams come true.

The artists’ lives are also marred by tragedy. Bishop’s is, by far, the most tragic, having lost a young son in a terrible accident. To distance himself emotionally from the event, Bishop talks about the incident almost as if it happened to somebody else’s child, a clear coping mechanism. Meanwhile, Every’s marriage has collapsed, although his wife appears throughout the film taking care of him as if nothing has happened. The wife also continually alludes to something specifically terrible occurring that caused the divorce, but we never learn what.

None of this is to say, though, that von Stoetzel dwells exceptionally on the negative aspects of these men’s lives. The documentary is a fair, well-rounded portrait of the artists, but it is mostly structured as a celebration of them and their work. And that work is unbelievable astounding!

It seems a bit shocking that neither Bishop Castle nor the Forevertron are more well known in modern American culture, especially with the boom of cable TV travel shows. Perhaps it’s simply that the artists and their families have to put so much work on improving and maintaining their structures, that they haven’t put in the proper amount of time on their own PR.

Both the castle and the metallic sculpture should be considered not just as works of art, but as national treasures and landmarks. But, considering how neither artist went through the proper “official” channels to have them approved for building, their local governments don’t seem to be too pleased with their existence.

Clearly, one is going to have to consider the safety of a massive, hand-built stone castle. However, watching Bishop not only work on his creation, but jump around unsafely on its many metal walkways, dozens of feet above the ground, one can’t help but be impressed that the man does, in fact, know exactly what he’s doing. Is the castle’s structure as safe as Jim Bishop claims it to be? This viewer is convinced it is.

Like the documentary’s two subjects, Scrap is, at this time, just as obscure — and that is a crime as well. Von Stoetzel has proved with two docs, both this one and his previous Snuff that he has the craftsmanship of an artist, which is why he must have felt so drawn to these two men. The opening title cards of Scrap state that von Stoetzel scrapped a traditional documentary on roadside attractions to instead limit his subject matter to these two iconoclasts.

Both Bishop and Every each could have withstood being the solo subject of their own documentaries, but telling their stories side-by-side truly brings out the best of both of them.

One can only hope that the facts and legends of what Bishop and Every have created will be brought to bigger, more appreciative audiences now that von Stoetzel has trained his artistic gaze towards them.

Watch Scrap on SnagFilm.

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