2003-01-18 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

By Susan Hartenstein

Rockaway Artists Alliance

One feels the visceral effects of this film for days and even weeks after seeing it. "Frida" is the stunning vision of stage director Julie Taymor ("The Lion King"). The film itself is both a canvas and a stage. Taymor combines searing images and visual effects, often boldly interweaving and manipulating Kahlo's even bolder paintings (mostly self-portraits), with storytelling and the choreography of character across the dimensions of space and time. Brilliant set designs and costume designs are invaluable in creating the look and feel of Kahlo's life and times. Indeed, "Frida" is, more than a canvas, an extension of canvas. It is a revelation of the complex personality and soul in the canvases. But one never feels as though one is being manipulated by technical cinematic "trickery." One feels a part of the intensity of Kahlo's unflinching paintings - the truths of Kahlo's images have been "magically" released through an alchemy of insight and film artistry. Frida Kahlo displayed her physical and emotional agonies in her paintings without self-pity. This film reveals the characters as boldly.

Versatile British actor Alfred Molina is brilliant as artist Diego Rivera, whom Kahlo married in 1929, divorced and remarried in 1940. His subtle portrayal is of a man at once larger than life, boorish, tender and grandly self-indulgent. We absolutely understand his wife's (and other women's) fascination with him. Frida's life is explored mostly in conjunction with Diego's. It appears, certainly in this film, that their lives were inexorably linked. As for Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo? I am not certain if she gave a very good, very subtle and intelligent performance or if she is a good actress who has had a rich story and images spun around her by a talented director. I think I will need to see it again to decide.

Frida Kahlo's art was her defiant, uncompromising escape from her physical prison. Her paintings were rendered with as much power and beauty as pain. They were statements of the strong, complex woman she was. Ultimately it is her soul which is released to soar above corpus. It is Frida who, in life and death, is the helmsman and navigator. Appropriately, in this film, it is the canvas which is the vessel of Frida's ultimate "freedom."

"Gangs of New York" is also a visually stunning film. It is a stark recreation of a bloody, violent chapter in this city's history. Its violence and gore are enacted with appropriate reality. At no time did I feel the violence to be gratuitous. Scorcese, I believe, is trying to let the audience know just how horrid those "mean streets" of the Five Corners were. He succeeds. If you haven't the stomach for it, don't see this movie. The blood and roar of snorting warriors against the glaring white snow. The dances of death and the setting of a living map of lower Manhattan on a huge cinematic canvas. Daniel Day Lewis is terrific. All these elements work brilliantly. And all make this film worth seeing. Where Scorcese fails, for me, is in the fact that the violence is unrelenting and empathy with characters is never established. His audience has little time to take a breath from the gore. We haven't the time to get to know the characters as human beings. Even in the scenes where they are supposedly revealed, it seems to be in a superficial manner. He waffles. One character, for example, seems a villain, is then given an artificial-feeling motivation to transform him suddenly into a good guy but none of it is believable. Some of the historical facts become a bit confusing. Ultimately, I found this film about what is an interesting subject, to be disappointing.

I highly recommend "The Pianist," especially to anyone who understands the essential role music can play in the life of a human being. It is a film about the Holocaust directed by Roman Polanski, who was a survivor of the Holocaust. Its violence, too, as you can imagine, is sometimes difficult to sit through. But what emerges is an extraordinary story of survival of the human spirit. Adrian Brody is heartbreaking and inspiring as the title character. His journey is poetic. Once again in this film, the costumes and set designs serve the story brilliantly. The recreation of a war-ravaged Warsaw takes one's breath away. Music is the life force of the pianist and his eventual savior. It runs through "The Pianist" as a reminder of the best of what the human being is capable.

OK. No Queens art spots this week. Sorry - I get a little carried away when I write about films. Next week...

In honor of Martin Luther King Day: Monday, January 20 from 12 - 4 PM, sTudio 6 in Fort Tilden will be open so those wishing to may see the finalist entries for Tribute Park. As always, admission is free.

This weekend - final weekend for "Sparkle."

Sunday and Monday - Submissions for "Vermillion."

Igor Gushchin's sculpture, "Volodia Kazlov," is one of the pieces on display in RAA's "Sparkle" exhibit. The exhibit runs through this Sunday


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