Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Local Color- a movie about Painting

When watching the preview of Local Color, you may notice this is basically an arty version of Karate Kid- with less ass kicking action. Also, it ended with little chance for a Local Color II. Still, as a realist painter who has experienced the "master / apprentice" relationship, I knew that this movie, if done well, would have some special meaning. Since it was written and directed by an actual painter I figured a lot of typical art myths would be left out and replace with a bit of truth. For the most part I was satisfied with the results.
I certainly believe that art must be "uplifting to the human spirit"- a theme often cited in the film. Of course these days art often is not uplifting and most don't think it needs to be. Modern art is often too self indulgent to be uplifting. Today's artists spend a lot of its time pointing out the bad, the evil and the shocking. They also spend a lot of time pointing at themselves, in a "hey, look at me!" kind of way. Often this art is little more than pornography for the intellectual.

This movie is a low budget, small, independent film that is semi-autobiographical. It is not a documentary, so things have been adjusted and tweaked to make this movie watchable and entertaining. It is very sentimental and formulaic. As I like sappy movies, I did not mind. It has a lot of jargon and shop talk that my not be interesting to non-painters- but I found it pretty amusing. Some real gems of dialog were delivered by the "master" character- "If there is no beauty, there is no art". This character is one that I would love to hang out with. It would be a blast to sit down with Seroff, discuss art while sipping a bottle of some strong alcohol, trashing the ridiculousness of the art world. Being a pretty hard core curmudgeon myself, I identified with him totally.

This film is well acted by Armin Mueller-Stahl and Trevor Morgan as the two main characters. It is directed with passion and has some wonderful cinematography, but........... you knew there was going to be a but, didn't you? ............... I did have some issues with this film.

There were a lot of small problems in this movie. The Seroff character was a bit all over the place emotionally. He had some strong convictions- maybe too strongly portrayed. While his outlook may be based on truth, did not allow me to believe the friendship with the Ron Pearlman character- a art dealer type character that was filled with all the bile and crap you see in your typical modern art lacky, salesman type that can go on for hours using large words about nothing. I suppose the this relationship was an attempt to show that we can disagree about art, but still love each other. That is a lovely sentiment, but I can't imagine he would have suffered these ridiculous discussions for a second. It would be safer to discuss politics or religion. Even Mr Miyagi would have kicked his ass.

A summer studying painting under a master painter is barely enough time to skim the surface of what it takes to be a painter. This barely enough time to consider yourself a serious student of anyone.

There were some other small issues, but the big, over riding problem with this movie: The paintings portrayed in the file as being by this great Russian Master were terrible. They had none of the qualities that one sees in fine painting. Now, you may say, "It was just a movie. Give it a break!"
Well, if the message of the movie was not so strongly stated, if the modern art world was not so viciously attacked by the Seroff character, one would not mind that his work was only slightly better than the work you see in your typical hobbyist art fair. Seroff talked like someone who had amazing training- much more than a summer's worth. He spouted wisdom like a person that had years of classical training, involving time drawing from casts and master drawings. Hours spent drawing the nude figure. Serious time spent in the studio of a master painter that is not passing on his 'talent', but offering technical information that he himself received from a master- and so on- and so on. Seroff, who after years of working out the complicated problems of painting on his own, after some good training, talked like a painter.

Once you see his "art" you do not see that wisdom realized in paint. There is not the mastery.
These paintings are saleable in today's market, they may even win a local art show or two, but are they great works by someone with classical training? Not even close.
The film is full of paintings supposedly by the master in which the color was not true, with no real light effect and non existent drawing. If the film maker had used the paintings by George Cherepov, the actual painter he studied with and whom the character Seroff was based on, the movie would have had more weight. There are tons of really good landscape painters working today that would have loved to lend their work to this project, but unfortunately the director decided to use his own paintings. Concerning the director Gallo's work, we can give him a bit of a break- as he has had very little training, and has not really worked at it professionally. I am not saying that he is not capable of good work, he just needs to continue good training and some serious time spent painting in the field- or do what he does best- write and direct film.

For this movie and its message to be powerful, it needed powerful work. It needed work by a master- real or imagined.
The paintings did not carry the message, and in fact hurt it. This is too bad, as I was totally buying the message. I am all for discussions that undermine the hollow work of most modern painters. Some breathtaking work by an amazing landscape painter would have really made the argument all the more strong.