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Movie Marathon Idea: Tortured Artists

August 18, 2011

They eat, sweat and pee ART.  Not “art”, but ART, in all caps.  That’s right, in order to be a truly worthwhile and memorable artist, your personal life must contain tragedy, insanity and disappointment in love.  All the better to make a great biopic out of your life.  Here are three tortured artists whose life stories capture the imagination almost as much as their genius did…

1.) Pollock (2000)

The always fantastic Ed Harris (who himself is never appreciated as much as he should be as an actor) stars as the famous American painter Jackson Pollock, who made dripping lines of paint onto a canvas into high art.  Pollock was a man absolutely confounded by his own fame, always saying the wrong thing to the wrong reporter, art critic or gallery owner.  His career didn’t truly take off until his thirties, but his alcoholism and stubborn refusal to bow to the establishment made him a difficult star.   Marcia Gay Harden plays Pollock’s long-suffering wife, Lee Krasner, who was his biggest fan but refused to give into Pollock’s need for a family knowing his struggles with sobriety.  Harris’s real-life wife Amy Madigan plays Pollock’s patron, the formidable Peggy Guggenheim.  The film ends with Pollock’s tragic death at the age of 44, while he was still in his “drip” period (Time magazine dubbed him “Jack the Dripper”).  The paintings Pollock produced in the last three years of his life are considered to be his masterworks.

For more about Pollock’s paintings, check out:  http://sb.cc.stonybrook.edu/pkhouse/story/pollock1.shtml

2.) Frida (2002)

The normally stunning Salma Hayek dons the world’s most famous uni-brow to play Mexico’s most notorious and vibrant female painter.  Frida is a visually moving and startling film about a woman loved by some of the most influential and intriguing personages of her day, including Leon Trotsky and her loyal (but still physically unfaithful) husband, the muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina).  Directed by Julie Taymor, the art direction and use of Kahlo’s own designs and palette make the movie rise above standard biopic clichés.  Kahlo’s rise from a debilitating accident to celebrated artist did not go smoothly, but her rocky road would inspire some of the most colorful and shocking art of the century.

To view some of Kahlo’s paintings, check out: http://www.fridakahlo.com/selected-artwork

3.)Camille Claudel (1988)

The never-aging Isabelle Adjani plays the title character,  the sculptor and graphic artist who was best known during her lifetime for being Auguste Rodin’s mistress.  The film focuses on Claudel’s fascination with earth and the human form, showing how she was a major force in her own right, and not just a protegé of her more well-known lover.  Claudel was prone to attacks of mental illness (today she probably would have been diagnosed as bi-polar), and when Rodin left her for another woman, she went into virtual seclusion.    Sadly, the sculptures she produced during her lifetime were underappreciated, being unfairly compared to Rodin’s, despite having a feminine and imaginative edge that displayed a range all her own.  Claudel spent over thirty years in a French asylum before passing away in 1943, at a time when the art world may finally have been able to appreciate and accept her unique talent.

Check out some of Claudel’s engrossing sculptures (including my favorite, “The Waltz”) at:  http://www.musee-rodin.fr/images/feuille_de_salle/salle6_gb.pdf

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