Tired of bingeing on Tiger King? Quarantine Culture #3 explores films about art and artists that will elevate your knowledge about culture, whether pop or serious. Seek out these selected biopics, documentaries and fictionalisations, and you can be guaranteed that films about art and artists will be a visual feast for your eyes and nourish your intellect. This list has been curated by NERAM Manager Curatorial & Exhibitions and film lover, Belinda Hungerford.
ARTEMISIA (1997) dir. Agnès Merlet
A bold, somewhat controversial film about Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Artemisia was encouraged to paint by her father, renowned artist Orazio Gentileschi, however 17th century mores did not allow her to study the nude form or enter the Academy of Arts. The film follows Artemisia’s determination to paint and her liaison with her art tutor which lead to a contentious court case.
BASQUIAT (1996) dir. Julian Schnabel
Basquiat was Julian Schnabel’s directing debut and he was well placed to tell the story as he was part of the New York scene and a friend of the eponymous artist. It is an accomplished feat, following the softly spoken dreamer, played by Jeffrey Wright, on his speedy ascent from homeless graffiti artist to celebrity painter in 1980s Manhattan. It is a poetic musing on creative genius and self-destruction, enlivened by a stellar cast, ranging from David Bowie as Andy Warhol and Courtney Love as Madonna to Dennis Hopper as renowned art collector Bruno Bischofberger.
CAMILLE CLAUDEL (1988) dir. Bruno Nuytten
The film recounts the troubled life of French sculptor Camille Claudel (Isabelle Adjani) and her long relationship with the sculptor Auguste Rodin (Gérard Depardieu). Beginning in the 1880s, with the young Claudel’s first meeting with Rodin, the film traces the development of their intense romantic bond. The growth of this relationship coincides with the rise of Claudel’s career, helping her overcome prejudices against female artists. However, their romance soon sours, due to the increasing pressures of Rodin’s fame and his love for another woman. These difficulties combine with her increasing doubts about the value of her work and drive Claudel into an emotional tumult that threatens to become insanity. Juliette Binoche has also played Camille Claudel, in the film Camille Claudel 1915 (2013 dir. Bruno Dumont).
Camille Claudel 1915 available on SBS On Demand, Google Play
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (2010) dir. Banksy
This documentary tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, and his obsession with street art. The film charts Guetta’s constant documenting of his every waking moment on film, from a chance encounter with his cousin, the artist Invader, to his introduction to a host of street artists with a focus on Shepard Fairey and Banksy, whose anonymity is preserved by obscuring his face and altering his voice, to Guetta’s eventual fame as a street artist himself. Questions were raised about the authenticity of this ‘documentary’. Watch and judge for yourself as to whether it is a prank or not.
Available on Stan, Google Play
FRIDA (2002) dir. Julie Taymor
Salma Hayek is mesmerising as Frida Kahlo in this visually arresting biopic of the impassioned Mexican painter, which guides us through the defining moments of her extraordinary, pain-punctuated life. These span her first encounter with the rotund and entitled muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), who would become her husband not once but twice over the course of their turbulent relationship; her life altering tram accident in 1925; her various love affairs (including a dalliance with Leon Trotsky) right up until her early death at the age of 47. Taymor uses Kahlo’s artworks, frequently blending them with the character’s reality, demonstrating the painter’s intensely personal practice.
Available on Stan
FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS (2006) dir. Steven Shainberg
An imagined biography of photographer Diane Arbus’ transformation from ’50s housewife to legendary photographer of life’s more ‘unusual’ portraits. Modelled loosely on Patricia Bosworth’s 1984 biography, the film shows Arbus torn between a bizarre relationship with a neighbour who has hypertrichosis, Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jr), and a conventional life with her husband Allan (Ty Burrell). Through Lionel, Arbus is introduced to a netherworld populated by transvestites, dwarves and others living on the fringes of society.
Available on Stan
GAUGUIN: VOYAGE TO TAHITI (2017) dir. Edouard Deluc
In 1891 painter Paul Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) is already well-known in Parisian artistic circles but is tired of the so-called civilised world and its political, moral and artistic conventions. Leaving his wife and children behind, he ventures alone to the other end of the world, Tahiti, consumed with a yearning for original purity, and ready to sacrifice everything for his quest. Impoverished and solitary, Gauguin pushes deep into the Tahitian jungle, where he meets the Maoris and Tehura, his muse, who will inspire his most iconic works of art.
Available on SBS On Demand, Stan, Foxtel, Google Play
GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING (2003) dir. Peter Webber
A speculative account of the life of Griet, a 16-year-old girl who appears in Johannes Vermeer’s painting of the same title. Set in 17th century Holland, Griet (Scarlett Johansson) is employed by Vermeer (Colin Firth) as a housemaid to care for his six children, his jealous pregnant wife and his uncommunicative mother-in-law. Tensions arise when Vermeer’s wife suspects intimacy between her husband and the girl–and then climax, when the wife discovers that Griet borrowed her precious pearl earrings to sit for the now famous portrait.
I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996) dir. Mary Harron
An American-British independent film about the life of Valerie Solanas, the radical feminist who seriously wounded the artist Andy Warhol in 1968l. The traditional biopic is interrupted with black-and-white sequences of Solanas looking straight into the camera and reciting passages from the Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM) manifesto, which became a feminist classic. The film stars Lili Taylor as Valerie, Jared Harris as Andy Warhol, and Stephen Dorff playing Warhol superstar Candy Darling. John Cale of The Velvet Underground wrote the film’s score. If you’d prefer an alternative female insight into Warhol then check out FACTORY GIRL (2006 dir. George Hickenlooper) which charts the rapid rise and fall of 1960s underground film star and socialite Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller), known for her association with Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce).
POLLOCK (2000) dir. Ed Harris
Ed Harris directs, co-produces and stars in this 2000 portrait of abstract expressionist pioneer Jackson Pollock. Harris conjures an unflinching image of our grumpy and tormented protagonist, beginning in New York in 1941, when the artist, in the throes of alcohol addiction, meets his future wife and fellow painter Lee Krasner (an Oscar-winning Marcia Gay Harden). With her support, he captures the attention of Peggy Guggenheim and thereafter the art world at large, changing the course of modern art in the process.
Available on Google Play
RUSSIAN ARK (2002) dir. Alexander Sokurov
With its immense art collection, St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum is the ark of the Russian soul, a microcosm of Russian history. An unnamed narrator wanders through the Winter Palace. In each room, he encounters various real and fictional people from various periods in the city’s 300-year history. Characters from both past and present mix magically in this musical and visual feast of art, politics and mysticism. A sumptuous cinematic experience based on the ground-breaking concept of shooting a continuous, entirely uncut 90-minute steadicam shot.
Available on Google Play
THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING (2018) dir. Nathaniel Kahn
Exploring the labyrinth of the contemporary art world, The Price of Everything examines the role of art and artistic passion in today’s money-driven, consumer-based society. Featuring collectors, dealers, auctioneers and a rich range of artists, from current market darlings Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, to one-time art star Larry Poons, the film exposes deep contradictions as it holds a mirror up to contemporary values and times, coaxing out the dynamics at play in pricing the priceless.
Available on Google Play
VINCENT AND THEO (1990) dir. Robert Altman
Made originally as a four-hour miniseries for television and cut back for theatrical release, the film is about the mysterious, near-mystical interaction between Vincent (Tim Roth) and his brother Theo (Paul Rhys). Theo, an art dealer in Paris, tried for years without success to sell Vincent’s art, and died not quite six months after his brother shot himself to death in a wheat field in Auvers-sur-Oise. Van Gogh has been depicted many times on film including the more recent animated biography Loving Vincent (2017 dir. Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman) and Willem Defoe’s star turn in At Eternity’s Gate (2019 dir. Julian Schnabel).
Vincent and Theo available on Amazon Prime
Loving Vincent available on Stan, Google Play
At Eternity’s Gate available on Foxtel, Google Play