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'A true artist in every sense': Belgian filmmakers pay tribute to Bruce Geduldig
American artist Bruce Geduldig passed away this week, on his 63rd birthday and in his hometown Sacramento, California.
Known worldwide for his pioneering multimedia work with San Francisco avant-garde music collective Tuxedomoon, who rode out the Reagan years in exile in Brussels, Geduldig also collaborated with Belgian partners on projects spanning the artistic spectrum from music to film to theatre.
Geduldig arrived in Brussels with Tuxedomoon in 1981. His role in the group was primarily visual. While the musicians laboured over their instruments, Geduldig’s video projections bathed the stage in light and colour. And he, with his chiselled sneer and shock of impossibly blond hair, worked the room with an improvised, abstract choreography alternately elegant and absurd.
His contributions to the group’s studio albums were rare but decisive. It is Geduldig’s whistle that opens the celebrated 1985 ballad In a Manner of Speaking.
Tuxedomoon held court in Brussels throughout the decade. Most of his bandmates would relocate in later years but Geduldig remained with his wife, the Belgian artist Bernadette Martou. He complemented his ongoing but increasingly sporadic Tuxedomoon duties with myriad collaborations. There was a chart hit with the gonzo Brussels-based electronic outfit The Weathermen. There were music videos he directed for other artists, including his long-time friends and fellow expatriates Minimal Compact. There was plenty of work - in front of and behind the camera - on television and film productions in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Seized by wanderlust, Geduldig and Martou left Brussels in 2013. They settled briefly in Portugal before returning to Geduldig’s native soil, where Martou passed away in 2015. The widower spent his last days surrounded by family and friends.
Tuxedomoon issued an official statement describing Geduldig as “a constant feature in the live show, contributing to its unique gesamtkunst presentation” and adding, “We will miss him sorely.”
The Bulletin spoke with three Belgian filmmakers who had worked recently with Geduldig. Ghent-based director Kris De Meester cast the actor as one of the lead characters in his 2009 film Four Roses. Geduldig later co-wrote and played a supporting role in De Meester’s Johnny Walker (2015).
“Bruce was a true artist in every sense,” De Meester says. “The way his mind worked, how he looked, how he talked, even how he moved. I was fortunate to work with him on two films. He brought something special every time. He was the kind of artist that hardly needed any direction. He worked with you and created something that was beyond your expectations.”
Brussels-based filmmaker Martine Doyen directed Geduldig in the improvised, low-budget film Tomorrow. A labour of love, the production took years and included impromptu location shoots in Belgium and Tunisia. The film was finally released in 2014.
“Bruce and Bernadette were part of my social circle for years before we worked together,” Doyen says. “I was always struck by his charisma, his humour, his soft-spoken elegance, his spirit and his piercing blue eyes. He had such presence. He embodied everything we had seen and read about the American cultural scene of the 1970s. As an actor, he was every director’s dream: intelligent, open-minded, energetic and willing to improvise. He had a rhythm that kept everyone going.”
Flemish choreographer and filmmaker Wim Vandekeybus cast Geduldig as an unhinged game hunter in his 2010 film Monkey Sandwich, which premiered in Brussels before screening at the Venice International Film Festival. Vandekeybus was familiar with Geduldig’s work as a member of Tuxedomoon but the two artists had not previously met. His costume designer facilitated the introduction.
“I was looking for actors who had a good look, a good attitude and who could improvise,” Vandekeybus says. “There was no script whatsoever. I cooked dinner for the actors the night before the shoot and, with everyone gathered, I explained the basic plot. Bruce immediately came up with his character’s entire back story and motivation. He spoke softly but he had everyone in the room rapt. I was tremendously impressed.”
Vandekeybus hoped to bring Geduldig back to Belgium for a new production this year. “I was crushed both as a friend and as a filmmaker when I heard the news of his passing,” he says. “I’m in the process of writing a new movie and I was planning to invite Bruce. I was looking forward to working with him again.”