Friday, December 23, 2011

Molo at the Movies: The Woodmans (documentary)

Last night I stumbled upon a very interesting documentary on PBS about a family of artists, The Woodmans, (2010)

I new nothing about Betty (ceramicist, painter), George (painter) or their children Charlie (multi-media/electronic) and Francesca (renowned photographer) or their story, and this documentary was immediately enthralling.  The story plays out in a very straight-forward timeline, telling how Betty and George, both serious artists, met and fell in love, and how they started a family.  It moves to the unique ways in which they raised their children while maintaining their artistic practices and as the story goes along, I realized very quickly that this was not going to be a happy tale -  there were no interviews with the daughter, Francesca, but instead we heard excerpts from her diary.

It turns out, which is shown in the film, that Francesca is a very well known, legendary figure in modern photography.  She too some fantastic images in the 70s, highly influential work that even I can see had a monumental impact on the photography world.  She was only 22 when she died, a struggling artists trying to get attention for her work.  Dealing with severe depression. It wasn't until after her death that her legend began to grow.  A very Van Gogh-esq tale.  The tragic misunderstood and ignored artist.  Sounds cliched, but this film makes it anything but.   

The film, in many ways, is her story, but it's also the story of her parents Betty and George, and their son Charlie, who all have struggled for attention for their own work, and have been out-shined by the posthumous fame of Francesca.  This is fascinating.  They support and promote her work as a way of keeping her alive, while at the same time working so hard on their own careers and having to deal with the jealousy of being overshadowed by their deceased daughter.  Then there's the grief, and the guilt and the interesting ways in which this family has dealt with her death and with questions of why she became so depressed.

George says at one point something that there is an inherent psychological risk in the life of an artist

I'm not explaining this film very well - I wanted to give some insight into why I was so interested in it, w/out flat out telling you every little thing about it, but I believe I have failed.  If you have any interest in the arts and in family dynamics, then you will enjoy this film.  It's not all gloom and depression either, there are many happy, joyful moments.

The Woodmans trailer

4 Molos - nothing remarkable about the film making itself, but the story is told very well.

Here some images of art by Francesca and her parents:

work by Betty Woodman (the mother) 

 a painting by George Woodman (the father)

Below:  a few photos by Francesca Woodman - she took many great images and her style
has been borrowed extensively in the years following her death.

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