Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 22, 2018 12:18 pm 
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Not finished

If Alberto Giacometti hadn't existed someone would have had to invent him. A sculptor (and painter, and draftsman, but most famously sculptor) who was so unsatisfied with his work that the chipping away, drawing over, and scraping and painting over became the work, the look, the style, and the artist who forever failed became forever a huge success. Giacometti's attenuated sculptures seem a shtick, a jokey version of how sculpture shouldn't be - volumeless in a medium of volume. And yet there they are. And there he is, one of the greatest, most recognizable, figures of modern art, defying gravity, stubbornly enduring.

The time I read Albert Lord's 1965 book, A Giacometti Portrait , I was entranced by it, teased, not wanting it to end. I knew Giacometti was real, very real indeed, his work in museums and books. But I thought somehow Lord's book was a novella, a fantasy, made up. Gradually I realized it was not, that it was a loving memoir, attempting to be precise in every detail about the writer's intimate experience of his most admired artist's tortured, tragicomic creative process. Later Lord's absolute seriousness would be confirmed by the publication of his massive biographical study of the artist. But the smaller, more personal book, with its fable-like simplicity, remained the stronger memory, Lord's most unique achievement.

The book is about having his portrait painted by Giacometti. It was supposed to take only a few hours. It took weeks, and seriously delayed Lord's return to the United States, holding everything in suspension while the sculptor-as-painter engaged in his agonized process, painting and chipping away, painting and chipping away, never satisfied, promising completion, putting off and putting off. Amusingly, an IMDb citizen critic entitles his review of Tucci's film, "If you enjoy watching paint dry this is your film." But some of us do enjoy watching paint dry, those of us who are artists. And when I was very young nothing delighted me more than an Art News regular feature, "[Artist's Name] Paints a Picture." When the artist was Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, Willem de Kooning, or Jackson Pollock, you can bet your life I wanted to watch their paint dry.

It's only understandable that someone would like to make a movie dramatizing Lord's memorable little memoir. And it's nicely done as to the look - of Lord (played by the handsome and mild Armie Hammer) and the artist (the estimable, gifted Geoffrey Rush), of early Sixties Paris, the studio, everything necessary to tell the tale.

But this is quite like the filming of another memoir, James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour, about a man following around the late writer David Foster Wallace. It is an attempt at a simulacrum that, the harder it tries, the worse it will fail. Because there will always be the key things missing.

Tucci and his production designer have an advantage, because while Wallace and David Lipsky are out on the road, Giacometti and Lord are in his studio, and can be surrounded by the paraphernalia of a distinctive life. But that's not enough. And unfortunately, Rush gums it all up by a frivolously comical impersonation of Giacometti, who was a very serious and, incidentally, initially a much more handsome man.

So, as with End of the Tour, one doesn't hate the film. One can enjoy the gesture it makes, as far as it succeeds, and let it go at that. But there is a faint hint of a travesty about it - that one forgives, because it's well meant - and one knows Armie Hammer's touching sincerity very well now from his performance as Oliver in Call Me by Your Name (an adaptation that supremely works) - but one leaves unsatisfied.

Final Portrait, 90 mins., debuted at Berlin Feb. 2017 and played in at least a dozen other festivals in 2017 and 2018. A Sony Classics release, it opens 23 Mar. 2018 in US theaters, NYC at Angelika and City Cinemas. 30 Mar. at Landmark Clay, San Francisco; 6 Apr. at Elmwood, Berkeley, Century 16, Pleasant Hill; CineArts, Palo Alto; Regency Cinemas Six, San Rafael. Metacritic rating 75%.

Here's a little film showing stages of the portrait, with excerpts from Lord: The Artist's Muse.

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