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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Near 500 words: Strawberries

Gilberte had always wanted to be a painter since childhood. She had given up her dream for love. After two husbands, she said, “To hell with love. I’m going to paint.” So she began.

At first, she wasn’t any good. Her canvases looked like a child’s smattering. Then she moved patiently from watercolor to acrylics to oil, each canvas a little better than the last. Six, then seven, then eight years passed. One of her exes came by and looked at her canvases. After he left, Gilberte said, “To hell with husbands. I’m going to paint.” So she continued.

In the ninth year, she had a burst of creativity. It was the strawberries that did it. She loved the taste of strawberries. She loved the smell of strawberries. She loved the texture of strawberries. She brought home some fresh strawberries from the market and put them in a bowl and out on the table. She went to the kitchen for some fresh milk.

When she came back, the strawberries sat overflowing from the bowl. They were a beautiful sight, the way the sun lit them, their reds such a contrast to the white table cloth.

She drank her milk. Then she went to her studio and brought back a blank canvas and her paints. She sat the canvas on its easel and began the process. First some white on the canvas and then some orange and green at the top, then came the bowl and finally the strawberries. She worked frantically so as not to loose the vision before her.

Again and again she touched her brush to the canvas. Over the next several days, the bowl of strawberries came to life on the canvas. Until finally, “Enough.” Then she signed the canvas, stacked it against the wall and waited.

Saturday her daughter arrived at the front door with her large daughterly smile and her large daughterly kiss. As usual she brought gifts which always made Gilberte think, “Beware Greeks bearing gifts.” The daughter took the fresh vegetables into the kitchen and washed them and put them away as she always did.

“So what have you been working on?” she asked her mother.

Her mother gave her the same answer as always, only this time she had a smile on her face. Her mother was up to something. “Have you been painting?” she asked.

“Maybe.”

Her daughter looked over in the corner and saw the canvas. She went up to it and picked it up and examined it, then she sat it back against the wall. She turned to her mother and said, “Strawberries? You know how I hate strawberries. They always give me a rash.”

When she left, Gilberte said, “Just like her father. Well, to hell with daughters too.”

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

Charlie’s Hobby

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

June loved Charlie, and June knew Charlie loved her. But June believed Charlie loved the beach more. Early every Sunday morning for the last ten years or so, he picked up his paints, his easel and his canvas and took off for the beach. Five days a week he traded stocks with a large brokerage. Saturday he spent with June and the boys. Sunday was his.

After doing that for almost a year, June became suspicious of her husband. His disappearance on Sunday bothered her. From time to time, she thought Charlie might be having an affair.

June hired a detective. The detective watched Charlie from sun up to sundown and more. For a month he did this.

“Nothing,” he told June. “Your Charlie is one the best husbands I’ve ever seen. He loves you as much as George loved Gracie and Rickie loved Lucy” So June went back to trusting.

For five more years, Charlie did his Sundays. The completed canvases were backing up in the garage. There were over a thousand.

Then one Sunday morning, June woke up late and there was Charlie beside her. Usually by the time she woke, he was gone. She woke him up and asked, “Are you sick?”

“No,” Charlie answered.

June worried about this all week long. She figured it was a one-time thing, so she let it alone. But he stayed at home the next Sunday, and the Sunday after that. All those years of Charlie going to the beach. She had gotten used to it. It had become such a routine. And now it was over.

This went on for two months and it was driving June crazy. Not the concern about Charlie and the beach kind of crazy. The kind of crazy from worry that something bad was getting ready to happen. That kind of crazy.

Everything was the same as it had been for years. Charlie went off to his job every Monday through Friday. Sunday nights and Wednesday nights he took out the garbage. Thursdays were poker night. Fridays were their date night, then sex afterward. All day Saturday, Charlie was helping out at the house or going with June to do this or that or the other. Nothing had changed. Except Sundays.

Finally June suggested Charlie go to see a therapist. Her friend, Ellen, suggested a Dr. Reid. Ellen knew everything about therapists. There wasn’t a mental illness she had not had over the years. Some woman on tv had depression, Ellen had depression. Some man had schizophrenia, Ellen had schizophrenia. Then she’d go to Dr. Reid, and he’d perform a miracle. They’d cure her. It was her hobby.

Charlie, being an agreeable man, acquiesced to the suggestion. If therapy would make his wife happy, he would go to therapy. She made an appointment for him the next Wednesday. It would give him a break from the tedium of his job. Besides a little therapy couldn’t hurt.

He walked into Dr. Reid’s office. The therapist pointed to the couch. “So why are you here, Charlie?” Dr. Reid asked.

Charlie explained that he came at June’s urging. Then he went on to tell the therapist about her concerns.

“So why did you make the change? Stop going to the beach and painting? Why didn’t you change to another location?”

“Doc,” Charlie called the therapist Doc, “I love my wife. She is the only woman I’ve ever loved. I am a routine kind of guy. I like my routines. After a year of marriage, I noticed June getting antsy. Bored, you know. She needed some variety in her life. And I am not Mr. Variety. After giving it some thought, I came up with a solution. I would give her something to worry about. So I went off to the beach. The painting gave me something to do.”

“So why did you quit going to the beach?”

“Same reason. To keep my wife interested. For years, she had this hobby. Why does Charlie go to the beach and paint? Now she has a new hobby. Why did Charlie quit going to the beach? Just about the time she starts getting real bored with this hobby, I’ll have a new one. Let’s just say it brings some sparkle to our marriage.”