I have been on a bit of an art movie and documentary binge recently. I am on my third viewing of Georgia O'Keeffe (2009) since they posted it on Super Channel recently. A fantastic portrayal of one of the finest female artists of the 20th century. I always appreciate people who march to their own drummer, and Georgia O'Keeffe definitely falls into this category. Joan Allen was fantastic as Georgia, allowing me to forget that this was an actress's portrayal of a complex and talented woman. Jeremy Irons is Alfred Stieglitz, her lover, and narcissistic champion.
The cinematography is beautiful and having never had the good fortune to see an O'Keeffe in person, I appreciated the chance to see the magnitude of some of these works by proxy. I am now a fan of the New Mexico landscape as a result of this film.
Pollock with Ed Harris (2000)
By far this is one of my favorites and one of the best biopics out there. Pollock was a man of many demons, most notably alcoholism, but a genius at his work. There is definitely a 'tortured artist' theme evident in this movie, but Ed Harris goes out on a limb to give us the full picture of the artist and demonstrate the man at his work. This movie is rich in painting scenes and Ed Harris is the consummate perfectionist in recapturing Pollock's passion and approach to the canvas.
Lee Krasner (played by Marcia Gay Harden) is tenacious as Pollock's lover, friend and champion, literally putting aside her own career to absorb herself in his. This movie is brutal in its honesty, the ending a short, sharp shock. Watch for Amy Madigan as Peggy Guggenheim. If you haven't seen this movie, seriously consider putting it at the top of your list.
Lust For Life with Kirk Douglas (1956)
Hands-down, one of the best features of this movie is the original Vincent Van Gogh works featured in the film. The movie shows Vincent's loneliness, agony and passion towards his art, spirituality and the people around him. Van Gogh's mental illness is evident but thankfully not the main feature of the film. Anthony Quinn plays Paul Gauguin , his friend and nemesis. A great portrayal of this dance of opposites, the cold, almost bullying-in-nature Gauguin against the softer emotional and over-eager Van Gogh. One of my favorite parts inevitably involves "Starry Night". Keep in mind that this movie is from 1956, so it is a stylized drama representative of that time, but otherwise, this movie is vivid and timeless...
Frida with Salma Hayek (2002)
Salma Hayek is brilliant in this movie in her portrayal of Frida Kahlo. This biopic captures the pain, passion and her fiery independence and the art of a woman who was definitely ahead of her time and not to be boxed in by the conventions of her society. That being said, it is painful to watch her walk eyes-wide-open into her marriage with the openly philandering Diego Rivera. Alfred Molina is fantastic as Deigo and portrays with ease a lovable man that you wish you could hate, yet cannot.
Frida's enormous life-long physical pain as a result of an early trolley accident only heightens the respect you have for her as she was never self-pitying and carried herself with strength and dignity. The dream sequences that bring her inspiration and artwork to life are some of my favorite features of this movie. There is such an honesty to Frida's work, and this movie does much to illustrate the complexity and talent of the woman and her genius.
Girl With A Pearl Earring with Colin Firth (2003)
A fictional story woven from the masterpiece of the same name. While the story of the Girl With A Pearl Earring is nothing more than idle speculation and/or fantasy on behalf of the writer, this period piece does much to bring to life a historical portrayal of a brilliant painter during the later 1600's who, with only 16 paintings surviving the centuries, is still viewed as a Master today.
Vermeer's financial dependence, yet evident silent resentment for his arrogant patron brings an interesting conflict to Vermeer's life in this film. He depends on commissions for his families survival and to keep them from having to flee debtors, and to perpetuate the cycle of his art, the commission needed to pursue his life in art is also in a sense, his artistic prison.
Scarlett Johanssen is beautiful in her portrayal of the young and naive maid Griet who seems to intuitively understand the artist and his work better than those who have surrounded him for years. This film does much to give you a sense of that period, and the attention to detail and the low light and shadows does much to set the mood and tone of this time in history.
Basquiat with Jeffrey Wright (1996)
This movie is a great snapshot of the chaotic and often over-indulgent NYC art scene during the 1980's. If you could sum up the theme in only so many words, it would be "be careful what you wish for..." . This film offers a hard look at celebrity and the impact on the artist. David Bowie is so impressive as Andy Warhol, as is Dennis Hopper as Basquiat's art dealer.
I give this movie credit for expanding my curiosity to new and less conventional forms of art.
Surviving Picasso with Anthony Hopkins (1996)
This film was based on the controversial memoir/book by Françoise Gilot, Picasso's lover, muse and mother to two of his children. Surviving Picasso doesn't so much tell the life of Picasso as much as to give us insight into Gilot's 10 years of observations and life with the private man when the cameras are turned off and the admirers not necessarily at hand. Anthony Hopkins was brilliant as Picasso and it is impossible to imagine another actor playing the part as well as he did.
Picasso's relationship with his friend and rival Henri Matisse (played by Joss Ackland ) was one of the high points of the movie for me. Julianne Moore is amazing as Picasso's troubled former lover and muse, artist and poet Dora Maar.
No doubt about it... he was a creative genius and few artists have ever come close to his diverse skills or prolific creativity. Fortunately or unfortunately, he was also aware of that. People in his inner circle paid a dear price to be near him to experience the extraordinary.
Plenty of studio shots and Picasso (Anthony Hopkins) at work on the canvas or creating assemblage art, and many scenes with his lesser known works. It will be only suggestions of his bigger masterpieces (like a shot from above when he was at work on Guernica) due to the producers being unable to secure permission to show his work at the time this movie was made.
Definitely worth the watch if you are interested in seeing a more intimate and very complex portrait of the artist from the eyes of an insider. Watching this movie, it is not hard to see why people were swept away by the hurricane that was a man named Picasso.
Picasso : The Man and His Work (documentary 1986 )
There are two parts to this documentary, I wish they had been combined into one set and possibly re-mastered for release onto DVD for better quality. I have only seen the first one which covers Picasso's life from 1881 through to 1937, detailing his artistic development from the age of 15 right through his blue and pink periods and leaving off with one of his most famous masterpieces, Guernica. I am ordering Part 2 from Amazon as I speak as this post has reminded me that I had always wanted to own both. The first disc only run about 45 minutes so I suspect the second is probably the same.
I get the impression that the director/producer of this documentary might have been a friend as you really get a first hand view and relaxed interview with Picasso involving his home and studio, and innumerable views of his paintings, sculptures and ceramics. Definitely a Picasso extravaganza!
Part Two covers from 1938 and onwards, I will update this post when I finally get my hands on it!
Marc Chagall (directed by Kim Evans)
I wish I owned this, but I actually happened across this gem in a library video section. It was fantastic and aside from a great biography of the artist behind the fantastical paintings, my parting memory of this video is how the camera would linger on different works, allowing us to really see them. Lots of archival footage of Chagall and film depicting him at work...
The only thing better would be to see these gorgeous works in person~ and since that is not possible for many (especially myself) this documentary is certainly a great runner-up.
My Left Foot with Daniel Day Lewis
The true story of noted Christy Brown, an accomplished Irish artist and writer who was born with cerebral palsy and did everything with the only limb he could get to cooperate ~ his left foot. Inspiring, heart-breaking, a brilliant movie and easily one of Day Lewis's best perfomances.
The movie I want to see but have not~ yet...
The Agony and the Ecstasy with Charlton Heston (1965)
This movie is based on Michelangelo's life during the time he painted the Sistine Chapel.
These descriptions ( and I use the term loosely) are strictly based on my own impressions and opinions and not necessarily a description of the film. Did you get something different from the films above? I would love to hear about it. Do you know of any movies or documentaries not listed here? Please share them! A number of us are always on the look-out for a great movie! I am certain I have forgotten a title or two here but I suspect this post has run on long enough!
Next post: Great Books about Art and Artists!