Friday, September 7, 2018

Review of new documentary WYETH

WYETH - Extended Trailer
A new documentary on Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), which airs later today on PBS, gives a rich portrait of the life and work of this essential American artist.

Previous videos, including Michael Palin's Wyeth's World for BBC, David McCullough's The Wyeths: A Father and His Family, and Christina's World, narrated by Julie Harris, capture facets of his story, but this is the most complete and thorough production yet.

Andrew Wyeth's studio, © Phil Bradshaw, FreshFly
This new documentary dives deep into the archives, sharing Wyeth home movies, including a clip of N.C. Wyeth dressed up as a very scary Santa Claus. "I was terrified to the point that I wet the bed," Andrew remembers. 

We see NC's collection of stereoscopic photographs of World War I, the drama of which fascinated Andrew's father. In a remarkable visual effect, the directors fuse the stereo images of a battle trench, and fly into a 3D virtual image, an effect I've never seen before. 

Director Glenn Holsten and cinematographer Phil Bradshaw were inspired by Wyeth's artwork, handling many of the film's moments in emotionally resonant and visually powerful ways. For example, to evoke the terror and tragedy of NC's death from the train accident, we hear the sound of a train, and then we see a low and slow dolly shot over some train tracks, with dry leaves blowing in the wind.

Director Glenn Holsten sitting at the window in the Kuerner farmhouse
The film explores Wyeth's familiar haunts in Chadd's Ford and Maine at various seasons of the year, allowing us to see the viewpoints that inspired many of Andrew's paintings. There's archival filmed footage of Christina Olson, the subject of Christina's World. Helga, the model for Wyeth's secretive series of nudes in his later career, goes before the camera to speak about her recollections of Wyeth and their unusual relationship. There's a beautiful shot of her on a sunlit porch that almost looks like Andrew could have painted it. The film also takes a look at his friendships with the African-American community around Chadd's Ford. 

This production reveals how much Andrew Wyeth's work is cherished in Japan, where there have been several extremely popular books and exhibitions. Wyeth's paintings are in tune with traditional Japanese artistic sensibilities, which value change, transience, abstraction and negative space. This connection is enhanced by gorgeous shots of cherry blossoms and gardens shot in Japan.

Although she never appears in filmed interviews, Andrew's wife Betsy receives due recognition as the organizational and financial genius behind Andrew's success. She was the one who helped arrange his life to keep him painting, regardless of the demands that money and fame would otherwise have placed on him. She titled and catalogued his paintings and held him to high standards: "Betsy encouraged him to work on [a painting] until it couldn't be better." Her role as author and editor of the extraordinary books Christina's World and Wyeth at Kuerner's is also acknowledged. 

Arriving nearly a decade after his death, this video is an ambitious and comprehensive production which benefits from access to archives and to people close to Andrew Wyeth, evoking the strange magic behind his life and work.

1 comment:

Sheridan said...

Thanks for the heads-up James. Notified all in our portrait group that just met today. Thanks again for the timely info.