One of the documentary highlights of my very first Tribeca, all the way back in 2009, was the Mark Kostabi bio-doc “Con Artist,” and – perhaps due to its geographic location, perhaps due to the wealth of material about it – the ‘80s downtown art scene has always had a presence on the non-fiction slate. This year was no exception
Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait
Director Pappi Corsicato creates something of a hang-out documentary on the topic of painter, filmmaker, and general artiste Schnabel, in all his cockiness and controversy. The style is easy-going, but not half-hearted; Corsicato nicely captures the energy and impatience of the scene that both made and drove Schnabel, drills down intelligently on his transition to filmmaking and the idea of continuity between forms, and succinctly underscores the importance his subject places on continuing to grow as an artist, and challenging oneself. Even if you know of his work only passingly (guilty), you’ll come away inspired by Schnabel, and most likely reaching for a paintbrush, or camera, or keyboard yourself.
Richard Hambleton was an integral part of scene as well, best known for his “black shadow figures” (a clear influence on Banksy, amongst others). And then, in the middle of the decade, he removed himself from that scene – and has spent the years since floating in and out of the public eye, productivity, and homelessness. “I wasn’t hiding,” he insists. “I was painting, I was working.” Oren Jacoby’s documentary portrait does its best to match the energy and electricity of it’s subject’s work, and to convey the wildness of his many rises and falls – from the desperation and chaos of his darkest hours to his rediscovery and revitalization in 2009, and then right back down again. It’s a harrowing movie (towards its end, it feels like we’re just watching him fall apart), but a captivating portrait of the modern art world, and the manner in which it repackages and resells its icons.