Art Fag City at the Reeler: Alice Neel’s Ultimate Portrait

by Art Fag City on May 9, 2007 Events

The second feature I’ve written for the The Reeler this week posted this morning. This time discussing director Andrew Neel’s documentary on his grandmother Alice Neel, I get to the bottom of whether this film is worth seeing. The short answer is yes, but if you want the full explanation you’ll have to go to the site to read why. As always, I’ve posted the teaser below.

“I often go into a documentary because I know what I want to say about something,” director Andrew Neel recently told me during a chat in Williamsburg. Indeed, his new documentary Alice Neel (screening at Cinema Village through May 17) demonstrates no lack of focus, tackling copious art clichés while carefully constructing a sensitive portrait of the figurative painter who is its namesake. Inheriting the distinctive Neel voice, the film mimics the work of his grandmother (who passed away in 1984), presenting family and friends with a directness and honesty that probably annoys as much as it does pleases them. Like the paintings themselves, spats spurred by the unwillingness to discuss various subjects resolve themselves uneasily, often resulting in the bittersweet.

The film traces the artist’s life with a mix of historical footage and fresh interviews highlighting her lifelong guilt for making art rather than choosing a more practical profession. Neel revisits the effect the loss of Alice’s first child had on her mental health and work, following with her rise in status through the ’60s and ’70s to her position as a role model for the women’s movement during that time. At each point, the traditional biography becomes a means of showcasing the conflicted benevolence, intellect and individuality of the director’s subjects; in this case, Neel’s sons Hartley and Richard praise her as a wonderful mother and artist while damning her for professional and personal choices that scarred them emotionally. “First you have to be able to live, then you have to be able to paint,” Alice tells interviewer Terry Gross midway through the film, only to remark later: “I’d rather paint than anything.”

To read the full review click here.

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