Directors: Perri Peltz/Geeta Gandbhir
G2P2 Films/HBO Documentary Films/Tribeca Productions
Made as tribute and with just a hint of set-the-story-straight/let’s-get-this-name-out-there Remembering The Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr is the story of the actor Robert De Niro’s father. Robert De Niro, Sr was an artist – part of the “New York School” that included names we all know and remember such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. The argument this film very subtly puts into place is that De Niro Sr deserved more acclaim; that his is a name that needs to be mentioned in the same light, with the same weight as those other fine artists. De Niro Sr was a figurative painter, his still-life work so clearly inspired by Matisse, I don’t know enough about art to tell you that he was highly derivative and without his own voice but I certainly couldn’t tell you that he was without talent. Through extensive slide-show styled representation of his work – indeed you could argue that this documentary feature is a gallery; is an exhibition – we can see that this guy could paint.
Add in a troubled backstory – though it’s never fully explored – that De Niro Sr was homosexual and felt huge guilt, wrestling with his sexuality. Through frank interviews with his famous son we hear about their relationship – though never quite enough – and we get to see a context being created for the painter’s work. De Niro explains the bittersweet pill of his own fame, a proud father frustrated somewhat that the fame he sought had been scooped up by his son.
Remembering The Artist is a 40-minute film, lovely, gentle classical music is the score and sets the tone, as we follow soft cascades of piano we’re talked through the work and with diary entries being recited and home-film footage we see a carefully crafted and lovingly assembled portrait of the artist – and glimpses of a portrait of the man.
It’s interesting – simply for the time/era, anyone with an interest in the art of this time should get something from this film. And though the big headlines to promote it were in hearing that the guy from Taxi Driver cried when talking about his father – and that his father was a repressed homosexual – there’s much more of value and heart and tenderness in this film than just those moments. Much more.