Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell is as apt a film title as you’ll find. Russell—an avant-garde composer, singer/songwriter, cellist and disco producer—was a gay, flannel-wearing converted Buddhist from Oskaloosa, Iowa. He collaborated with Allen Ginsberg, David Byrne and Phillip Glass, among many others, in a thriving New York City art scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Wild combination, indeed.
Russell died from AIDS in 1992 at age 40. His vast music catalog—he left behind thousands of tapes of partially finished songs—was largely overlooked until recently, when a series of reissues, compilations and tributes were welcomed by a new generation. After learning about Russell from a friend, New York-based filmmaker Matt Wolf felt an instant, visceral connection to his music before even hearing it. The seemingly contradictory character—the Iowa farm boy who becomes a Buddhist and downtown scenester—was fascinating.