Friday, November 16, 2007
My Kid Could Paint That
Above behold Jackson Pollock's "The Laughing Squid:" a masterpiece?
Yes, this painting is pleasing at some level, but something we should consider a pinnacle of our civilization? An interpretation of squid laughing only unveiled by the artist himself? Or a splotch of no meaning at all? And meant to be that.
My Kid Could Paint That sets out to explore just these issues, is abstract expressionism elaborate intellectual masturbation mixed with 94% hucksterism or something we should celebrate as a radical form of uhm... expression. I say sets out because after an initial love fest spent with Upstate New York's Gen X "Leave it to Beaver" Olmstead family with the prodigal daughter, whose 4 year old's paintings were getting ink in the New York Times, the film maker inadvertently shifts gears chronicling a family in crisis. Why the crisis? Because the intrepid journalists at 60 Minutes had once again sniffed out some bullshoot and planted a camera and mic in the basement of the budding artist's home to see if she can actually produce the works that are now fetching thousands, not just in the greater Binghamton, NY area, but soon to be at Sotheby's. You can guess the outcome. But what becomes most compelling at about a third the way into My Kid is whether Bar-Lev, the film maker, should continue now that he smells a rat. The other compelling story line is whether not beautiful mom can now believe her Eddie Vedder look alike husband who shifts and squirms on film as if recently afflicted with a bad case of Cholera when asked about the authorship of the paintings.
Amir Bar-Lev puts himself, and the issue at hand, out there. He likes the family. They like him. But he knows if he continues on he is part of the problem. So what's an earnest documentarian to do? In interview after interview, non-chronologically, Bar-Lev in a seemingly honest way, tries to figure out whether or not to continue. Is he betraying his new found confidants? Does he have a duty to expose the fraud? Some characters come off sleazy and calculatingly unconcerned with any of these issues as long as they make a buck but our films true protaganist, Laura Olmstead, the mom, seems to have an epiphany on film. And at its core it is the question of her entire life; is my husband a lying piece of da-da? The dilemma of filmer and watcher, and eventually participant, is why exactly should we be taking part in this Montell moment? The voyuerism is bile inducing, I thought of walking out, but at the same time I thought they, maybe Vedder more than she, wanted this exposure. They invited the filmmaker into their home. They cashed the checks. They mounted a defense even after the 60 Minutes episode. Did she really have no doubt? She wanted the fame and the chava.
A good film always keeps you thinking, not just about the topic at hand but about one's own dilemmas. My Kid will get you thinking.