‘WITHOUT GORKY’ ILLUMINATES A FAMILY’S JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY
A key challenge for any documentary filmmaker is to build trust with the subject. So when the filmmaker is a loyal family member, they’re in a good position to record something intimate. Add in an amazing story that could be right out of a Fitzgerald or Hemmingway novel, and you have the key ingredients for a compelling film. Such is the case with director Cosima Spender’s telling of her family’s journey of discovery in Without Gorky.
Every family has its myths. The family we see on-screen has a myth whose exploration sheds light on the nature of family conflict while providing insight into one of last century’s great visual artists. Arshile Gorky was a member of the New York Surrealists and a driving force in the creation of the Abstract Impressionism movement. He once stated, “I do not paint in front of nature; but from within nature.” Major retrospectives of his work have recently shown at some of the world’s leading museums to critical acclaim. In 2007, a mid-career painting sold at auction for one million dollars over the pre-sale estimate price.
Featured in the documentary are Gorky’s wife, “Mougouch” and their two daughters. During the course of the film, Spender works to peel away the layers of armor the three women have placed on their hearts in order to protect themselves following Gorky’s tragic death while in his mid 40’s. The two daughters were very young; outside events and how their parents managed them came crashing down about them. Sixty years later, they revisit the breakup of their family and track down Gorky’s obscured immigrant origins. Thanks to Spender’s abilities as a filmmaker we are right there, along for the ride.
In the rooms and on the landscapes where it all happened, the two daughters and Mougouch come to terms with what they’ve been holding inside of them for so long. Not all is heartbreaking—there is much joy and catharsis as mother/daughter conflicts are examined and personal remorse is released.
The aesthetic of the film is just perfect and matches the artistic integrity and vision of its talented subject. Gorky’s presence is felt throughout and his artistic vision is embedded within the film.
The New York art scene circa 1930’s and 40’s is brought to life through the on-screen reminiscences of Mougouch. So much is learned about Gorky as a person, that one leaves the film wanting to revisit his work with this new awareness of his life. The film goes beyond the typical examination of an artist and the biographical elements that shape their artistic vision. This is a story about family and the healing that can take place when people are ready to open their hearts and surrender their positions.
—by Jim Lichacz for Film Independent
Without Gorky screens again tonight, June 22 at 7:40pm. Click here for more info.
June 22nd, 2012 • No Comments