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!Women Art Revolution: The Feminist Art Movement in the US
Art isn’t made in a vacuum and is often a reaction to, or a product of, the surrounding socio-political environment. This documentary chronicles one of the most important movements that grew out of a turbulent social and political period, namely: feminist art in the US.
Born in the 1960s, the feminist art movement was one of the ways in which women articulated their demands, anger, opinions and hopes. It was also a reaction to the dominance that straight, white men had over the art world.
The documentary is mainly made up of interviews with the most important female artists and curators of the time and spotlights their work and their struggle to have feminist art be taken seriously.
Artist Lynn Hershman Leeson started working on this project over forty years ago, accumulating over 12,428 minutes of footage, and out of this immense effort, an unfortunately slight film was born; one that meanders and goes off on unnecessary tangents rather frequently.
The film focuses more on the artists than on their work or its impact. Many of the artists interviewed aren’t that compelling as interviewees, so it’s hard for us to care about their squabbles. Despite their screen time, we don’t get to know them well enough to care. This format may be found interesting to their acquaintances, or to those who are already familiar with the artists and their work, but it doesn’t make for an ideal film for the casual viewer.
The artists’ work is merely shown in quick images. During the segment on the Guerrilla Girls - a group of feminist activists who protest while wearing gorilla suits - you barely have enough time to skim the headlines of the text heavy posters shown.
Also, the score and narration, the latter of which is provided by director Lynn Hershman-Leeson's rather monotonous voice, are pretty irritating and distracting.
On the bright side though, it works as a good introduction to the subject and it highlights radical feminism as a political ideology. One point that the artists make over and over is that by virtue of being women, their lives are already politicized which makes their art political by default. The phrase ‘the personal is political’ is mentioned and really sums up the relation these women have to their art.
In fact, one of the more famous pieces of work, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, was so provocative that the senate almost succeeded in passing a motion to prevent it from going to Washington. The film spotlights a variety of art work such as performance art, photography and installations. It also discusses how race and sexuality, along with gender, affect the artist’s hierarchy within the art world.
What’s infuriating about this documentary is that it should have been so much better considering the subject matter and the fact that the director has been a part of the movement since its inception. It just doesn't do the movement justice.
She wakes up from her coma to a husband who she doesn’t remember and parents who are overjoyed that she’s forgotten about their dispute. While Paige’s parents try to bring her back to the way of life that she’d rebelled against, Leo tries to help her remember why she’d left all that behind in the first place. Fighting for a wife who doesn’t remember him and is a completely different person than the one he knew, Leo tries to get her to fall in love with him again.
The film rarely gets unbearably cheesy, setting it apart from your run of the mill Sparks adaptation. It gets mushy, emotional and sappy, but it’s more likely to make you smile than roll your eyes. Leo’s pain and heartbreak combined with Paige’s family’s delight at having their daughter back, gives the film a level of grit that keeps it from becoming overly cloying. However, the secret of the film’s success is the leads, who have great chemistry and manage to pass off some of the cheesiness as bearable.
He could have been the next Bob Dylan; in South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Australia, he was even bigger than Elvis. His music was loved by the critics but ignored by audiences, and after two albums – titled Cold Fact and Coming From Reality – fell on deaf ears in the US, and his efforts proved commercially fruitless, the Detroit street-poet instantaneously fell from the face of the earth, vanishing into complete obscurity.
So, whatever happened to the talented and disturbingly underrated Detroit-born 70's soul-folk musician, Sixto Diaz Rodriguez? That's a question first-time Swedish filmmaker, Malik Bendjelloul, seeks answers to in one of the most compelling and touching music documentaries of the past decade.
Ingeniously titled, Searching for Sugar Man, the story takes us to South Africa where we learn that while Rodriguez never managed to find the artistic and marketable success in the US, his music – thanks to the bootlegging of his first album, Cold Fact – ended up playing a significant role in the apartheid-era. Rodriguez became the voice of the people despite governmental efforts to censor his record's 'offending' tracks; and for many years, he never even knew it.
With only a few pictures of Rodriguez available as proof that he really does exist, his devoted fans never really knew much about their beloved idol. Bizarre rumours surfaced alleging that he had committed suicide onstage during one of his failed performances, either by shooting himself or by setting himself on fire.
Rodriguez's legacy never died, even after the struggling apartheid years were long over. Often referred to as the 'prophet of the people', devoted fans, Segerman and Strydom, set out to undertake research, only to discover that their search only marked the beginning of something greater than initially imagined.
Well paced and cinematically striking, the film doesn’t fall back on simple on-camera interviews and narration, but rather, Bendjelloul adds a sense of intrigue and beauty using an evidently thought-out structure to his storytelling. Dazzling shots of Cape Town's skyline and striking animatics of Rodriguez walking the streets of his hometown play a big part in the story development; as a result there isn't one dull moment.
Rodriguez's songs play throughout the entire film and there is no denying the fact that this man – who was constantly compared to the likes of Dylan and Donovan – was unjustly disregarded. His soulful tracks and profound lyrics score the film and even though there is a sense of melancholy, the story still manages to find room for the positive, ultimately proving that it's never too late to fulfil your dreams.
Searching for Sugar Man is a truly fine documentary and a significant work of art. Although we would have liked to see a little bit more of the live-concert footage, and perhaps gotten to know a little bit more about what's hiding beneath the dark mysterious exterior, Searching for Sugar Man is still highly insightful and thoroughly entertaining.