Documentary Movie Review: Visages, Villages (2017) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “V” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “V” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Vernon, Florida and Virunga.

Title: Visages, Villages
Release Date: June 28, 2017
Director: Agnès Varda and JR
Production Company: Cine Tamaris | JRSA | Rouge International | Arte France Cinema | Arches Films
Summary/Review:

This movie is made by Agnès Varda, a movie director of the French New Wave of films such as Cleo, from 5 to 7 (1962), and a street artist named JR. Together they travel through France in a van which includes a photo booth that can print out large-scale photographs.  They meet with local people, take their photographs, and then paste them on the walls of various buildings.  Sites include mostly-abandoned miners’ houses (where they past up images of miners and the last remaining occupant), an organic goat farm, a chemical factory (where the workers from different shifts get to be featured side by side), a shipping port (where the wives of three dockworkers are depicted on a stack of shipping containers) and the ruins of a German bunker in Normandy (where they put up a photo Varda took in the 1960s of a colleague who is now deceased).

The movie has a populist feel as they meet ordinary French people, learn about their lives, and celebrate them.  It is also a sweet depiction of their friendship, especially when they meet JR’s grandmother and when JR comforts Varda after they attempt to meet her old friend Jean-Luc Godard, but Godard plays a trick on them and doesn’t show.  A recurring theme is the eyes, as Varda complains about how JR always hides his eyes behind sunglasses, while Varda is losing her vision.

This movie is quirky and sweet and sprawling, and its hard to describe what it’s really “about,” but I really enjoyed watching it.

Rating: ****

Documentary Movie Review: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “J” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Other “J” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Jane and Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Title: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
Release Date: July 21, 2010
Director: Tamra Davis
Production Company: Curiously Bright Entertainment | LM Media GmbH | Fortissimo Films
Summary/Review:

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts recently opened an exhibit on the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, but since no one will be visiting any museums for some time, I decided to learn about Basquiat through this movie.  The movie includes archival film and photographs from Basquiat’s life (including a never-before-seen interview filmed by a close friend) as well as interviews with friends and art experts.  Basquiat, who was a handsome young man with a disarming smile, grew up in Brooklyn but left home in the late 1970s at the age of 18 to join the large circle of fine artists, musicians, dancers, performers, and filmmakers who lived, worked, and played in the (then affordable) Lower Manhattan.

Basquiat first attracts attention for his graffiti tags which include social commentary in poetic language. Within two years of arriving in Lower Manhattan, Basquiat had his own studio and gained considerable fame and money for his art.  Basquiat is presented as a polymath who draws on many influences from Davinci to Bebop to whatever is on tv.  He’s also a very disciplined in working on his art and is ambitious to be recognized as the greatest living artist.  He forms a close friendship with Andy Warhol and is something of a successor to Warhol.

Unfortunately, sudden fame and wealth come with its costs.  Basquiat has to deal with many hangers-on and the paranoia and loneliness that come from not being able to trust anyone.  He begins using hard drugs.  And despite the recognition he does get, Basquiat is frustrated that highest echelons of the art world racistly dismiss him as a “primative” artists.

I found a lot of parrellels in Basquait’s life to Amy Winehouse in the documentary Amy (although this documentary is more well-done than Amy).  And like Amy Winehouse, Jean-Michel Basquiat died at the age of 27, leaving behind a mindboggling body of work (1000+ paintings and 1000+ drawings) for his few years. I didn’t know anything about Basquiat before watching this movie, but I was glad to get the opportunity to learn about him and his thought-provoking art.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Camille Claudel (1988)


Title: Camille Claudel
Release Date: December 7, 1988
Director: Bruno Nuytten
Production Company:  Gaumont
Summary/Review:

This French biopic tells the story of Camille Claudel, an innovative sculptor active from the 1880s to early 1900s.  In her lifetime, her art was overshadowed by her romance with Auguste Rodin. The film stars the stunning Isabelle Adjani as Claudel, a young woman with a passion for art that infuriates her mother.  Yet, her father dotes on her, and her brother Paul (Laurent Grévill), who would gain fame as a poet and diplomat, also offers her support.

Gérard Depardieu, at the peak of imperial period as France’s most celebrated actor, plays Rodin. Appropriately, Depardieu plays Rodin as the celebrity, overseeing large-scale commissions like “The Gates of Hell” with teams of apprentices working in factory-like settings.  It’s implied that Rodin has a creative block that prevents him from making his own work and finds inspiration in Claudel. Although their romance is depicted as a consensual romance, the film strongly indicates that women artists were expected to make themselves available for sex if they wished to get ahead.

Eventually, Claudel sours on Rodin, because she feels she’s not getting enough credit for her contributions, and because he refuses to break off his long-time relationship with Rose Beuret for a a monogamous relationship with her.  Claudel attempts to make her own way as an artist, but struggles against discrimination against women and abandonment by patrons and family.  Eventually she ends up living in a derelict workshop inhabited by multiple cats, paranoid that Rodin is orchestrating her demise.  The film concludes as she’s determined to be mentally ill and Paul has her committed to a psychiatric hospital where she will live out her life.

I don’t know enough about Camille Claudel’s life to judge the historical accuracy of this movie, but I sense that it is a melodramatic interpretation of a more complex story.  Nevertheless, the acting of Adjani and Depardieu and others makes it an excellent character study.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “A” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “A” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Africa: The SerengetiAmerican Experience: Blackout,  and American Experience: Into the Amazon.

Title: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Release Date: April 16, 2012
Director: Alison Klayman
Production Company: United Expression Media
Summary/Review:

The documentary spends some time with the Chinese artists Ai Weiwei in the years between 2009 and 2011.  While Ai is shown supervising the creation of his sculpture by his assistants and attending the openings of installations in various parts of the world, the crux of this film is his activism.  Events covered include his organizing a team to collect the names and birthdates of school children who died in the collapse of substandard buildings in 2008’s Sichuan Earthquake which eventually total over 5000 names he displays on a wall.  He also is depicted being beaten severely by the police in Chengdu when he went there to testify at a fellow activist’s trial.  The Chinese government shuts down his blog and then demolishes his studios in Shanghai.  But Ai persistently attempts to work through the channels of bureaucracy to find justice, where many others would give up as intended by the system.  His family and fellow artists are interviewed and flashbacks through photographs reflect on his time in the New York City art scene in the 1980s.  Near the conclusion of the film, Ai is arrested and held for 81 days with the final scenes depicting him upon his release.  It’s a powerful film statement and surprising for the material captured on film that the Chinese government wouldn’t want people to see.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary: This film shows a good example of the role the artist can play as an activist. Ai Weiwei challenges the government’s lack of transparency through provocation and creates art to memorialize the  children lost in the collapsed schools who would otherwise be anonymous.
If You Like This You Might Also Want To …: See some of my photos from Megacities Asia exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, which includes some works by Ai Weiwei.

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming, and it is also available to Hulu subscribers.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Marbles : mania, depression, Michelangelo, and me by Ellen Forney


AuthorEllen Forney
TitleMarbles : mania, depression, Michelangelo, and me
Publication Info: New York : Gotham Books, c2012.
ISBN: 9781592407323
Summary/Review:

This graphic memoir depicts artist Ellen Forney’s experience when diagnosed with a bipolar personality, and her efforts to come terms with the manic and depressive periods of her life, as well as the cocktails of pharmaceuticals to help address this.  Forney explores the idea of the “troubled artist” stereotype, wondering if medication would kill her creativity, but also learning of the terrible struggles of famed bipolar artists.  This book ends on an upbeat note as Forney reflects on how she’s changed since her diagnosis, and grows to accept some of the tradeoffs in life.

Favorite Passages:

“Sometimes it seems like ‘pain’ is too obvious a place to turn for inspiration.  Pain isn’t always deep anyway.  Sometimes it’s awful and that’s it.  Or boring.

Surely other things can be as profound as pain …  ?”

Recommended books: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.
Rating: ***1/2