Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: Final Portrait

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Final Portrait” (2017):

With some artists, I need an In to appreciate their work. “Final Portrait” was the In I needed to access the amazing work of the Swiss Alberto Giacometti, one of the great artists of the twentieth century. He was as important to the art world as many of his contemporaries including Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Dali and Henry Moore. He was a sculptor, a painter, a printmaker.

At the end of his career, he had abandoned all art movements and focused on creating something original. Influenced by existentialism, he stripped down his sculptures and portraits to what would seem to be the essence of the subject.

“Final Portrait” is based on A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord, a writer who made the art world his subject. Director Stanley Tucci gives us a few weeks in the artist’s life in 1964, close to the end of his life. During those weeks, James Lord (Armie Hammer) sits for the artist for a portrait. Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush)i tells Lord that it will only take two or three days. The process turns into weeks and what seems to be an eternity for Lord. A painful eternity.

It is a gray world, the studio of Giacometti. Only Caroline, the prostitute and Giacometti’s muse, brings color into his world. As the project continues, James Lord gets to see Giacometti create. Geoffrey Rush is always good. No matter the part. Whether it be David Helfgott in “Shine,” Sir Francis Walsingham in “Elizabeth,” Javert in “Les Miserables,” Harry in “Tailor of Panama,” The Maquis de Sade in “Quills,” or Lionel Logue in “The King’s Speech,” his work as an actor is superb. As Alberto Giacometti, he gives one of the best performances of the films I have seen him in.

Lord also gets to know Giacometti’s brother and closest friend, Diego, played by Tony Shalhoub. I have enjoyed Shalhoub’s work since I first saw him as the Italian cabdriver, Antonio Scarpacci, in the series “Wings”. Later he was the hypochondriatic detective Adrian Monk in “Monk”. At first, I didn’t recognize Shalhoub. His quietness seems to make him fade into the scenery. Shalhoub makes us realize how essential Diego was to his brother.

Giacometti’s long suffering wife, Annette, is played by Sylvie Testud and Clemance Poesy is Caroline, Giacometti’s prostitute muse. Both actresses are French and new to American audiences. And both are wonderful as the two closest women in Giacometti’s life.

Usually biopics are a chronological narrative of the subject. What he did when he was a kid. What got her started on her road to greatness. But the movies seem to leave something out. Something that is the essence of the subject. Something that reveals the inner light that makes the subject worthy of so much attention.

By concentrating on a short time, Stanley Tucci has given us the Giacometti’s life. He has brought insights into the artist’s creative process: the struggle, the perfectionism, the desire never to settle, the focus, the concentration. By choosing those few weeks in 1964, Tucci has given us what may be easily called a great biopic.

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Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator of the Week: Leonard Bernstein and the Joy of Music

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is Leonard Bernstein:

When I was growing up, Leonard Bernstein was the one I thought of as a classical orchestra conductor was. Thinking back to the times, I can imagine other conductors being envious. So very envious. His personality looms over the classical world of the last half of the twentieth century more than any other personality.

Leonard Bernstein & Glenn Gould

Bernstein wasn’t just a classical conductor. He was a pianist. He was an educator with his Young People’s Concerts on CBS. He was a composer for the stage. His “West Side Story” is still considered one of the best stage musicals of all time. He composed ballets, classical, opera and film scores. He crammed more into his 72 years than most would get into 200 years.

Bernstein teaching

The reason Leonard Bernstein matters is he thought, spoke, played and passionately cared about music. And he communicated music to those who might not know it the way he did. He gave us an in to the music of Mahler, of Stravinsky, and Bach. And he treated us as adults. If you go to You tube and type in the name of Leonard Bernstein, you’ll find an embarrassment of riches. Watching any of them will not be time wasted.

The Kennedy Center Honors, 1980.

Near 500 words: The Model

Carlos turned the canvas to face his model, then looked over at Rachel. “What do you think?”

“That’s my portrait?”

“Yes.” Carlos smiled. He was proud of the canvas.

“But there’s only blocks of black and white with a few blue. There’s not even a circle. That’s crazy.”

“No, it’s abstract.”

“That’s what you think of me.”

“No, that’s how I think of you.”

“I sat naked for three days. For this.”

Carlos went over to Rachel and took his model in his arms.

Rachel pushed him away. “Don’t touch me.” She hurried over to the corner for her clothes, then she said, “This is what I get for baring my soul to you. This thing.” She pointed to the painting.

“But this is you.”

Rachel was not up to hearing anymore. She slipped on her blouse. Then her curiosity got the best of her. “Okay, how is that me?” Her anger filled the room.

“You are like a city. A beautiful city that is like no other city.” He pointed his brush to the black area at the top. This is your hair. That lovely hair.” There was pleading in his eyes. And tears. “And this is your heart. And in this part, there is the life that you gave me. The life that gave me purpose.”

“Bull shit.” Rachel pulled on her pants. “And to think I believed in you. This is what I get for my trouble.” Her face looked like the face of a tigress. “Friends told me about you and I didn’t believe them. Well, I was wrong.” She zipped up and reached down for her shoes.

“I thought you would be pleased.”

“Well, I am not.” She slipped on her shoe. Then she grabbed her second shoe. It looked like she was thinking of throwing it. But she changed her mind and slipped it on too. She was dressed. “I’m out of here. I will never take up with an artist again. City, my butt. You no talent bum. You just wanted to use me. Didn’t you?”

“No, Baby. You’re wrong.”

She stood glared across the room at Carlos. “Was I that bad of a lover?”

“No, it’s not that.”

“Of course, I wasn’t. And this is what I get.”

Rachel headed for the door. Carlos stepped in front of her.

“Don’t go. Please,” he begged.

She shoved the artist out of her way and stormed out of his studio.

The next morning the headlines of the newspaper read: ARTIST KILLS HIMSELF, LEAVES BEHIND MASTERPIECE. Underneath the headline was a photograph of her portrait with a caption: “The Woman.”

On her way to the café where she worked, Rachel saw the headline and grabbed the paper and handed the newsstand owner the money to pay for it. On the bus, she read the story several times. At the end of it, the newspaper asked, “Does anyone know who this woman is?”

She waited her tables that day, wondering what she had lost. That night she cut the painting out of the paper, then for hours she stared at it. It was her. It was beautiful.

Later she dreamed of Carlos.

haiku for the day: possibility

It is amazing what an artist does. She takes a bit of emptiness and soon fills it with a whole new world. It can be an intimate moment such as the boat scene Renoir placed on his canvas. Or it can be a whole afternoon in the park with dozens of  people sharing a Sunday afternoon such as the famous painting of dots of color by George Seurat. But whatever the artist puts in the canvas, the world would be less without it: 

an empty canvas
has the potential to be
a painted canvas

The Woman With the Demure Smile

It was a lovely spring Paris afternoon. I sat in the same chair at the same table I always sit in. Jacques, the waiter, brought me my usual cognac. I opened my sketch book. My eyes moved from table to table to table, searching for something, or someone, to draw. Several tables away, a woman shyly glanced over at me with those round eyes of hers, eyes as blue as the French sky that canvassed our afternoon. She wore a demure smile. Her lips I imagined speaking softly, breaking the heart of her last lover. My hand began its magic. The pencil drew. Soon I finished a page, then a second. Ten, fifteen empty pages I filled. The woman rose and walked my way. She said nothing, but passed me by, then she was gone. It was a lovely spring Paris afternoon.