The only thing I knew about artist Gustav Klimt were his paintings, The Kiss and Woman in Gold (Portrait of Adel Block-Bauer) and the latter just because of the movie about that painting a few years ago (Ryan Reynolds, Helen Mirren). I have a friend that loves art, and she liked that film, so I brought her to see this. It was a special engagement at the Angelika Film Center, which is always reliable to bring films you won’t see anywhere else (it’s playing there again, but on a limited basis).
This documentary took us to Vienna at the start of the 20th Century, and we got to see all the art busting out at that time. And sometimes a painting is just a painting, but other times…it can be a lot more. And with Sigmund Freud on the scene…things can get risque.
Anyway, the art coming out of Vienna was revolutionary at the time. This documentary shows us all the folks involved in that, as well as clips of World War I, and other historic moments like the Spanish flu epidemic.
We got to hear lots of classical pieces (Beethoven, Strauss, Wagner, Mahler, Brahms, and Shubert), and we visit lots of museums (Sigmund Freud Museum, Leopold Museum, Egon Schiele-Museum, and the Albertina Graphic Collection).
You might wonder how this all ties together. I know my art friend did, and she said to me afterwards, “I wanted more Klimt! I came to this for the Klimt.”
I enjoyed learning about how Freud’s ideas influenced the two artists, as well as musicians Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler.
This documentary even delved into topics like piano making, glass blowing, and architecture. It was an interesting history lesson. And, there’s nothing like learning about the famous Vienna cafes and seeing close-ups of the pastries the chefs are creating (and immediately running out to the cafe at Angelika to buy something chocolate). Who knew that these artists would sit around for hours reading the paper and talking politics over coffee, the way millennials gather at a Starbucks today.
Oh, and it’s not just pastries you get close-ups of. Seeing the brushstrokes on the paintings is always interesting. I love seeing a painting from far away, and then seeing the clumps of paint on the canvas when the camera pans in.
One of the few missteps with the documentary were the readings and narrations. The 28-year-old actor (Lorenzo Richelmy) that starts off the film and narrates throughout, is a bit over-dramatic and does these goofy things where he looks into the camera by turning his head and looking into a mirror. Luckily, we get some interesting talking heads (a Nobel prize winning neuroscientist, as well as art historians).
Actress and model Lily Cole does some readings that weren’t all that interesting or necessary.
Aside from learning about Klimt and Schiele, we learn about Dora Kallmus’ photographic studio, which became famous, as well as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alma Mahler, Arthur Schnitzler, and future directors Erich von Stroheim and Fritz Lang.
There’s a terrific story about Schiele being jailed, and a judge threatening a longer jail sentence while burning one of his paintings in court. Ha! You think censorship is bad today.
It was interesting to find out that after Klimt died, 14 women claimed they had children by him (the courts ruled six of them were his). The only other person I’ve heard of dying and having women come out to make such claims, was blues singer Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (I Put a Spell on You). There’s a website and annual gathering that has all of his children — supposedly that number is over 70.
This documentary is worth catching, especially in the comfortable seats of the Angelika Film Center.
It’s going to play again this afternoon (4/17/19), but after that, it might be hard to track down.
3 ½ stars out of 5.