Susan Morris | Reviews

Tribeca 2023: Artist Lives

A clutch of films at the Tribeca Festival centered around the lives of artists.

In Apolonia, Apolonia, the young French painter Apolonia Sokol was followed by the filmmaker for 13 years from her living literally in a theater, her childhood home , Lavoir Moderne Parisien, started by her parents (Polish mother, French father) in 1986 in a 19th century former washhouse in the Goutte d'Or district, which they lose during filming while she is studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  She then tries living in different cities — New York, Los Angeles, Istanbul and Copenhagen before returning to Paris.  While tragedy looms around her with her closest friend, the Ukrainian model and activist Oksana committing suicide, and the filmmaker nearly dying in childbirth, Apolonia devotes her life entirely to her art.  In Los Angeles, for example, she agrees to be subsidized by Stefan Simchowitz in exchange for a studio where she must hand over massive quantities of her work faster than she has ever produced (there is mention of a lunch with Harvey Weinstein).

The great Schettinimous used to be a “psychomagician” artist who had his own TV show in Argentina, New Horizons, set on his own planet, Kienki.  Now an old man, he is invited onto a television show only to be ridiculed by the interviewer.  Meanwhile, his young granddaughter is making a documentary about his life for school, a bittersweet moment.

Cam's Mementos
Still from Cam’s Mementos.

Cam Archer goes back to re-photograph his former subjects and revisit his relationships with them in Cam’s Mementos.

Proof of Concept
Still from Proof of Concept.

In Proof of Concept on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Chloe tries to get her father and uncle to put money into her film project, showing the trials of getting an independent film made. She explains “exactly what goes into making even the tiniest of short films” from getting a name actor to star to obtaining permits and insurance, to getting the film into festivals, and “how there will basically be no return on the investment.”

A more successful showman is Ron Delsener Presents about the concert promoter in New York City behind the Beatles at Forest Hills Stadium, to Simon & Garfunkel in Central Park, to a series of summer concerts featuring Ike & Tina Turner and Elton John, to Jimi Hendrix at Philharmonic Hall, to Patti LaBelle at the Metropolitan Opera House and David Bowie at Radio City. Interviewees include Bette Midler, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen & Steve Van Zant, Jon Bon Jovi and Gene Simmons (Kiss). We get to see the backstage aspect of the business behind the music, in which Delsener in his 80s is still involved, going to multiple concerts nightly.

Sunday Best
Still from Sunday Best.

Another showman was Ed Sullivan, who for 23 years brought us such acts as Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and the Supremes, every week in Sunday Best. In addition to musicians he showcased actors, dancers, sports figures, politicians, authors, plate spinners, and puppets. Sullivan's platforming of Black musicians including Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, and Nat King Cole during the Civil Rights era is what his granddaughter says is "a white ally who quietly did his thing and did what he believed in.”

Also working well into golden years before his death in 2018 at 95 was Stan Lee, the Marvel Comic impresario — writer, editor, publisher, and producer — that gave birth to Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man, Wasp, Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and Black Widow characters. Having worked in the U.S. Army Training Film Division (alongside Frank Capra, Charles Addams and Theodore Geisel [Dr. Seuss]), he then was tasked with formulating a training manual on payroll systems.  Lee wrote a comic book which was so effective it reduced tutoring time from 6 months to 6 weeks, hitting home the effectiveness of comics in storytelling.  A good talker whose ego knew no bounds (one of his key collaborators at Marvel, artist Steve Ditko, quit when Lee at first refused him co-credit for Spiderman).  Lee pushed the art of comic books forward and also left behind a trove of footage, recordings and memorabilia used in this profile.

Happy Clothes: A Film about Patricia Field
Still from Happy Clothes: A Film about Patricia Field.

Yet another octogenarian is costume designer Patricia Field who stars in Happy Clothes: A Film about Patricia Field. “Carrie Bradshaw’s tutu. Miranda Priestly’s hair. Betty Suarez’s red-framed glasses.” are some of her signatures from Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, and Ugly Betty. Her legendary downtown retail store sold club clothes and, in the back, the designs of artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.  She’s still going strong.

The musical group Lunarcode: The Light exemplifies Nina Simone’s line “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” Formed during COVID, they sing about ““Finding their way back home” and “In your eyes I find the light” using religious imagery.

A Strange Path
Still from A Strange Path.

COVID factors into A Strange Path when expatriate Brazilian filmmaker David goes home for the first time in 10 years to show his experimental film at a film festival in his home town. He gets caught in lockdown and cannot leave, so finds himself on his estranged father’s doorstep.  Using clips from his experimental footage to reflect David’s moods responding to his father’s increasingly odd behavior, we wonder is it all a dream or reality?

Family dynamics are also at play in Shadow Brother Sunday. When a luckless musician goes home for the celebration of his younger brother’s movie premiere, he plans to steal his successful brother’s laptop to sell to paparazzi. After encountering various mishaps with his oblivious family, he is finally about to upload the data when he discovers a letter his brother wrote to him but never sent, expressing his love.

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed is the story of Roy Fitzgerald from Winnetka, Illinois who became the beefcake heartthrob for women and ideal for men but was a closeted gay man. It was only when he died from AIDS that his sexuality was finally revealed. The dichotomy between his heartbreaker film and TV roles and real life couldn’t have been more stark.

Films Mentioned
Apolonia, Apolonia, Director Lea Glob
Schettinimous, Director Tomás Terzano
Cam’s Mementos, Director Cam Archer
Proof of Concept, Directors Max Cohn and Ellie Sachs
Ron Delsener Presents, Director Jake Sumner
Sunday Best, Director Sacha Jenkins
Stan Lee, Director David Gelb
Happy Clothes: A Film about Patricia Field, Director Michael Selditch
Lunarcode: The Light, Director Vincenzo Carubia
A Strange Path, Director Guto Parente
Shadow Brother Sunday, Director Alden Ehrenreich
Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed, Director Stephen Kijak

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Media

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