November 12, 2018 Bloodlines: The Art & Life of Vincent Castiglia (Documentary Review)
Many people debate over what exactly art is. Is it expressing a theme – be it politics, history or one’s feelings – through one or a variety of mediums? Is it mastery over a creative skill? Or is it just painting/sculpting/molding something for fun? Some look at abstract pieces or hear about Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”- aka a shark preserved in a tank full of formaldehyde – and wish people could just paint like the Old Masters. Others feel liberated from being beholden to realism in favor of Kahlo-esque dreamscapes, Pollock-esque Expressionism, or something more postmodern. Those who look back wistfully on Monet, Turner, or even Picasso might shrink at the Second Life video art done by Gleman Jun or AngryBeth Shortbread.
Though they might not be so keen on Vincent Castiglia’s work either. Its dark, Gothic style and subject matter might put people off, but that will not be the deal breaker. That would be the fact that his work is done exclusively in blood. Human blood. Hearing that may raise many questions, but the biggest and simplest would be “Why?”
Author and Filmmaker John Borowski (H.H Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer 2004, Serial Killer Theatre 2014) decided to look into the man, producing Bloodlines: The Art & Life of Vincent Castiglia across 4 years and through multiple locations around the world. Castiglia himself provides some insight into his life and inspirations, alongside celebrity clients like Slayer’s Gary Holt, Margaret Cho (Sharknado 5: Global Swarming 2017, This Close 2019), and the late Gregg Allman. The Documentary will finally reach DVD shelves on Tuesday, November 13, 2018 through MVDshop.com, among many other outlets. Is it worth catching? Would it convert art skeptics into enthusiasts? Or is it preaching to the choir?
It is not much to write home about production-wise. Granted, it is an Indie Documentary funded partially by Kickstarter, so it was never going to be an Attenborough-like production. It does come off as fairly middle of the road. The interviews consist of talking heads interspersed between footage of Castiglia at work, or on commute, etc. Pretty standard stuff, like something one would find on TV, like a pre-Ancient Aliens History Channel. That does not mean it lacks information though. If anything, it cuts to the point rather early by going straight into how Castiglia works and what his blood technique involves. For example, he does not mix his blood with any other medium. All the white parts are pure paper, and everything else is blood. If he wants darker shades, he has to let it congeal a bit because fresh blood comes out too light.
Then it gets to the why’s, what’s, and how’s. Why does he use blood? What does it mean? How did he get to that point, etc? It comes together to tell a human tale about someone who overcame a painful childhood of abuse, followed by trouble with drugs, through art and willpower. It can be quite fascinating, and even a little touching. Though, some elements take the wind out of its sails. The backing music and sound effects tend to cheapen some of the more tender moments. It sounds like stock tunes and clips taken straight from those old TV Documentaries, and it does not help. There is only so much one can do with any given budget, yet there are better royalty-free tracks out there.
While the parts talking about his life are slightly marred, the segments on his art come off better. At the very least, they provide some good anecdotes and quotes, like Allman commenting on Castiglia’s piece ‘Gravity’ (“Skulls aren’t a bad sign. Everyone’s got one sitting on their shoulders”). But the interviews talking about how his work impresses people – both technically and emotionally – are the strongest parts of the film. They contain less jarring music, and the camera focuses on the art pieces and their clients than having swooping, dramatic angles and cuts.
Overall, Bloodlines: The Art & Life of Vincent Castiglia makes for a good introduction to Castiglia and his work. It does not go into exhaustive details, but it goes into enough for viewers to get the point. It presents and answers its questions in a straightforward manner and promotes Castiglia’s art rather well. Curiosity seekers and enthusiasts should be fairly pleased with the results. However, the cheap production might not do much for skeptics, as it puts a cheap, Halloween veneer over an interesting artist. Nonetheless, it would not hurt to watch on a whim. With everything said, Cryptic Rock balances Bloodlines: The Art & Life of Vincent Castiglia 3.5 out of 5 stars.