The Woodmans

2010

Action / Biography / Documentary

0
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 95%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 74%
IMDb Rating 6.9 10 662

emotional vulnerability

Plot summary


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June 02, 2022 at 10:25 PM

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760.96 MB
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English 2.0
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1 hr 22 min
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1920*1080
English 2.0
NR
23.976 fps
1 hr 22 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by ThurstonHunger 4 / 10

The Woodman

I was fortunate enough to see some of Francesca's work at the SF MOMA earlier this year. Her photos, seeming to both express and erase herself at the same time, were fascinating.

The "Polka Dot" image alone was what called me to the exhibit...

Here is an oddly cropped version from the cover of a posthumous book

go to wiki and Keller2011FrancescaWoodmanBookDustJacketFront.jpg

Anyways, this film is indeed called "The Woodmans" and obviously the intent was to focus on all the artists in the family: Mom, Dad, Brother Charlie and Francesca, who killed herself over 30 years ago.

Yes, ideally her art should (and can) stand separate from her suicide, but there is some eerie harmony between the work and her suicide. Art is more clearly about choices than life, in art there is much more control, whereas in life, control is at best an illusion.

I didn't go into the film expecting it to be a mystery, and I steadfastly tried to avoid any judgment of the parents, even though I felt the filmmaker was pushing us towards one at times. Betty's comments about a therapist and a family Francesca babysat for, and then George's comment about the timing of her death, well they pushed me towards psychoanalysis. Ultimately Georges photo shoot is unfurled, and I'm curious if anyone felt was not at least a little creepy. Meanwhile the friends and other testifiers on behalf of Francesca if anything made her feel more remote than anything. Especially the sweet neighbor whose friendship sadly must have come before two or three major changes in Francesca...

They seemed from two different worlds, united by a kindergarten lifetimes ago. Even the parents, at this point have spent more time without Francesca then they did with her. What I might over analyze as willful detachment, could just as well be a weary detachment at this point.

Ultimately she is gone. And the film just underscores that. I'm not sure what I would do in her parent's stead, feel honored with a hint of agony? Maybe wish it away until I'm gone, and then let her brother handle it (if he wanted to?) I don't have the all-consuming near religious belief in art as they do. Seeing that was the most striking aspect of the film. For better or worse.

I had hope for more footage of Franscesca speaking for herself, instead they offered scribbled diary pages and then even excerpted those. I paused them at times, looking for more in the margins. Whether the film meant to just augment her mystique, or could not find its way in the few scraps left of Francesca, I do not know.

In the end, I think people are better served spending time with her artwork then this film, here's a nice set via UC Berkeley online

www.berk-edu.com/RESEARCH/francescaWoodman

During the film, I felt the images came and went too quickly. Not just for her, but for the other family members as well (Charlie in particular got the shortest shrift, his stuff looked more interesting to me than the parents.) Even at the exhibition, it was so crowded that the experience was diminished for me a bit, when looking alone at these photos now, it works better, in the quiet and stillness.

Evidently her work strikes a resonance with young female artists, however I am excluded from all three categories, and still find her work charged. We all struggle with meaningless in our lives, but for her to have captured meaningful photos during that struggle, that's the film I wanted to watch.

Reviewed by rlchianese 9 / 10

How do artist parents-respond to their artist-daughter's suicide?

When their avant-guarde artist daughter threw herself out a window to her death at 22, her artist-parents had to reassess their lives. The Woodmans focuses on what Betty and George Woodman do to find expression for their grief and their creativity.

Francesca was a photographer in the vein of Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe, photographing herself in various levels of undress in both dehumanized and sensuous postures. To say she was precocious is to miss the point—like many artist-wunderkinder, she was self-absorbed, schooled very early on by her parents to be an artist.

When she kills herself, perhaps out of frustration with her own languishing career, her ceramacist mother and abstract painter father try to move on with their own art. Betty switches to fine art ceramics and her father begins photographing young female nudes!

What we soon discover is that the inner dynamic of this family consumed by art may be a deflection from engaging each other at the very personal level. Can art, which tries to engage us emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, distract us from discovering our true inner self and deflect us from self-awareness at the deepest levels?

With ample images from Francesca's work and voicing from her videos and from detailed looks at her parents' art and their extensive comments about it, we are left to decide ourselves what was really going on in the hearts and souls and imaginations of these three creative people.

Reviewed by celr 5 / 10

What Lies Beneath, A Mystery.

This strange documentary summarizes the lives of avant garde photographer Francesca Woodman and her artistic parents Betty and George. We know from the beginning that Francesca commits suicide and so we're alert to clues. Why do people commit suicide? It's very difficult to know, really, but in some cases we're able to see glaring contradictions in a person's family dynamic. The movie is mostly interviews with the parents. The mom, Betty, in particular, presents a strange and forbidding presence, goggling through thick brightly painted glasses, she seems arrogant and fragile at the same time. A narcissist, of course, but aren't most artists narcissistic?

A major clue is revealed near the beginning of the interview where the mom declares that she has dedicated her life to art and that she couldn't imagine living with a person who wasn't an artist, "I would come to hate that person!" she states. reveling her prejudice and intolerance for non-artists.

The mother's art is mediocre at best, large pottery shapes splotched with crude patterns in primary colors. Perhaps the mother envied the daughter's obvious talent for visual expression.

Most suicides by youngsters are the result of them feeling intolerably pressured by their parents' expectations. In Francesca's case there was a unquestioned directive: be an artist...or else! Francesca created her own style of art: pictures of her own, very attractive, nude body posed against shabby, desiccated interiors or wrapped in old wallpaper. The photographs, many of which are shown in the film, are stark, compelling and ironic. She was obviously very talented. She achieved some notice as a photographer, an artist in her own right, but as any artist must she experienced moments of self doubt. Since Francesca's expression was primarily visual and enigmatic her inarticulate diary excerpts, though quoted throughout, provide little insight into what she was going through. In any case her narrow though striking artistic style was bound to run our of new ideas, being so restricted in subject matter.

At some point Francesca thinks about giving up art and suggests maybe trying another course in life. Her mother is quick to put a stop to that: "That was ridiculous, of course; I told her, 'You can't DO anything else.'" I can only speculate, but the clues are pretty obvious. The talented but unhappy daughter must continue with a course that even she can recognize is a dead end, or face the hatred of her mother. Her therapist, a necessary accessory to people of that class, is useless, and her father, whose art is not at all bad, is a passive participant in the family drama.

As a whole the film is a downer like a slow-moving train wreck. It showcases Francesca's photography and is a sort of introduction to her work, but the intrusion of the parents, who may have been the motivation behind her success and eventually her downfall, is unwelcome except to provide clues to the mystery of her life and death. This film is just too long, it could have expressed the same material in half the time.

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