Art on Film: Waste Land and The Gleaners and I


Waste Land, a remarkable film by Lucy Walker, is engrossing, disturbing, inspiring and hopeful, all at the same time. It tells the story of Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s lengthy project of making portraits of catadores, garbage pickers at the Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio de Janeiro.

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Art on Film: Big Eyes

Tim Burton’s latest film Big Eyes tells a fairly simple story, but it asks a million questions. The heroine is Margaret Keane, the woman responsible for the big-eyed waif paintings that became fantastically successful in the 1960s. Success comes to her, as it does to many, through a series of happy accidents. An art show in the bathroom hallway of a nightclub attracts the attention of a drunken woman; Keane’s husband has a fight with the nightclub owner, which becomes the subject of gossip columnists. One thing leads to another, and at first just the right amount of right people like her art. Through another (willful) misunderstanding, Keane’s husband starts to take credit for her work.DANM9989

The money pours in, more and more people like the art, and now almost too many people, and all the wrong people for the art to be taken seriously any more. And still she paints, and her husband takes credit for her work. He’s charming and personable and understands money; he becomes very nearly a celebrity while Margaret remains in the shadows, painting all day. Movie stars and presidents commission portraits in the Keane style and Andy Warhol proclaims, “I think what Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.”

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Art on Film: Séraphine

 Séraphine tells the true story of Séraphine Louis, a maid who has a secret passion for painting. She’s “discovered” by Wilhelm Uhde, a noted art critic who happens to be renting space in the house where Séraphine is employed. That’s the story of the film, but the film is truly about Séraphine herself; about her slow, quiet movements, about her passions and fears and loneliness. The film itself is slow and quiet, following Séraphine as she collects the materials to make paint, which is a mysterious and beautiful ritual.


Séraphine is happiest outdoors, and her almost religious love of nature translates into her paintings, which are wild and vibrant and beautiful. Séraphine doesn’t paint for wealth or fame, she paints for the glory of god, and because she has to paint. She has a lush, vivid world inside of her head, and it spills out onto the canvas with a sort of ecstasy. She paints with her hands, with the power of her whole body, and the fervor of her fevered soul.

Art on Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary by Werner Herzog, has a sort of dream-like logic to it that I love: When faced with something that you don’t understand, follow it farther and deeper than you would have thought possible. Even as you’re exploring, and you realize that you will never understand, you keep looking, because the mystery itself is so beautiful. As circus performer-turned-archaeologist Julen Monney tells us, “it’s a way to understand things which is not a direct way.” This is exactly what I love: the idea of looking at something from the side, or from some angle we can’t even imagine.


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