Written, directed and co-produced by the late Marion Cajori, a filmmaker well-known for capturing the creative process in documentaries about artists, the film became a critic’s darling playing at Toronto, Sundance and Melbourne Film Festivals. The documentary went on to win several top awards including the Whitney Pratt Grand Prize Montreal Int’l Festival for Films on Art and the Gold Plaque Award Chicago Int’l Film Festival. The DVD retails at $29.95 and comes with a lavish 40-page booklet produced by the Joan Mitchell Foundation that features photos, colorful artwork, a poignant letter from the heart by Marion Cajori to Joan Mitchell herself plus more.
Available on DVD for the first-time since the film’s theatrical release approximately 18 years ago, JOAN MITCHELL: PORTRAIT OF AN ABSTRACT PAINTER is a powerful and intimate portrait that captures the late Mitchell’s independent spirit and testifies eloquently to Mitchell’s art. One of the great abstract painters of the 20th century, Mitchell was an active participant of New York’s dynamic Abstract Expressionist scene and hung out with fellow painters Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston, as well as poets Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler and John Ashbery. In the mid-fifties, she moved to Paris, where she was part of a circle of friends that included Pierre Matisse, Samuel Beckett and Alberto Giacometti. This elegantly edited documentary weaves together interviews with the acerbic Mitchell and other leading painters and critics, while letting her stunning pictures dominate the film. Stephen Holden of the New York Times says, “The canvases have grand chaotic romanticism. While celebrating the physical universe with an ecstatic love of color, they don’t shy away from expressing a harsh, feral apprehension of nature and its violence.”
I know next to nothing about art and even less about artists, so you could build a documentary full of lies and I would be prone to believe it simply because I know no better. In the case of this one, however, I think it’s safe to assume that this documentary is one of the more in-depth and tightly delivered documentaries on any artist…and I’m just gleaning that from the mere fifty-four minutes that I spent with this documentary. What makes it such an insightful and entertaining documentary to watch is not only the input from the artist herself but also how frank she is about certain things. While she balks at some of the influences people see in her works, she nonetheless is candid enough to come out and say that she was essentially a man’s “mistress”—although there was a lot of disgust in her voice as she talked about him, so I’m sure she was just trying to get through the story as fast as she could.
The documentary covers almost every element you could hope for, from her early decision to go into abstract art to the estate she purchased in France. It’s a very interesting look into her life, although while I’ve already admitted I know next to nothing about art, I care even less about abstract art as that kind of art style just never appealed to me. Still, there is definitely a lot of chaos and turmoil evident in her works and hearing her talk about her life definitely shows where that kind of influence and decision to go with one of the art worlds more “violent” styles came from.
Overall anyone interested in the art medium would definitely find this a Recommended outing. As with almost all of these Arthouse Film releases, the appeal is minimal unless you’re one of the films target audiences.
docuramafilms brings Joan Mitchell to DVD in a standard (and clear!) amaray DVD case. Nothing overly special about the presentation of the documentary here—no fancy exterior cardboard slipcase and the cover itself looks like a rather laid back BBC special documentary release more than anything. Video and audio is a solid presentation overall and about what you’d expect from a documentary pushing twenty years old. As can be expected from something that dated the video is in 1.33:1 and the audio is a simple DD2.0 mix.
Extras are sadly zilch except for the aforementioned 40-page booklet that is included with this set. It’s not all that surprising that an eighteen year old documentary came with no extras, but the booklet is definitely a nice touch as it gives the viewers a chance to flip through Mitchell’s works as they watch the documentary.
Overall, again, a Recommended release for art buffs. Everyone else can safely walk on by it.
Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter arrives on DVD on July 27th.