In this thought-provoking documentary, Director Amir-Bar-Lev tracks the overnight celebrity of little Marla Olmstead, a toddler who creates gallery-worthy paintings on the dining room table of her family home. A media sen... more »sation by the age of four, critics compare her work with Jackson Pollock?s. Sales of her paintings reach $300,000. But, sadly, the bubble bursts. When a 2005 profile by "60 Minutes" suggests that Marla had help making her paintings, the finger is pointed at her father, an amateur artist and night manager at Frito Lay. Almost overnight, her family is ensnared in a web of accusation and denial ? with the burden of proof placed squarely in their lap: Is Marla a child prodigy or an innocent victim of a hoax?« less
George K. from COLCHESTER, CT Reviewed on 8/17/2015...
Excellent documentary about a controversial young artist, who seems quite unaware of either her remarkable fame or the foofaraw surrounding her.
It's more about the adults who frame her story and about the fickleness of the critical world than about her.
She is charming and unspoiled, unlike the role models who present themselves to her.
If you liked Spellbound (the breathtaking documentary about some competitors in the National Spelling Bee), you will love this movie.
Artists, teachers, and parents take note!
Christine A. (WriteReviseEdit) from ROCHESTER, NY Reviewed on 11/29/2012...
Amir Bar-Lev (the director and interviewer in this film) did a great job of working with the family profiled in this film. I've seen it multiple times and always wish I could take a more assertive approach in getting to the bottom of this who-created-the-art mystery that is this documentary. That's not to slight Amir. He sustained a long-term relationship with a cast of characters who - except for the two children in the film - aren't terribly forthcoming and seem insistent on hiding or downplaying something. I suppose I'd rate the film higher if there were more clear resolution to the "problem". But, overall, it's definitely worth seeing and makes you want to shake a few people by their shoulders and tell them to cut the crap. For that, alone, it's compelling.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Jeff V. (burielofmel) from HARRIMAN, TN Reviewed on 8/18/2008...
I really like this money. It inspired me to do something artistic but I haven't decided what yet. Watching the movie I got the impression that the who prodigy was a scam and the dad was coaching the daughter. Then I watched the same movie with the commentary track on and I was open minded to the possibility that she (the little girl) might have painted the stuff on her own. I can't say one way or the other now.
0 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Is It "Art" If a 4-Year Old Can Do It?
Stephen Elderbrock | Ottawa, Ohio | 03/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a fascinating documentary for anyone interested in art and the deeper questions about art and the art world. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the film and the philosophical questions it raises. When the parents of 4-year old Marla Olmstead begin to sell her abstract paintings, the questions and the investigations begin (interestingly it is not really the painting of the art that seems to be the issue, but the selling of it). Is Marla a prodigy? Is the only difference between her artwork and that of other 4-year olds the fact that she is getting thousands of dollars for hers? What does it mean to say a 4-year old "created" a painting? Was she "coached," or "encouraged" by her father? Does that really matter? The human interest aspect of this film is enjoyable, but the deeper questions it raises about the nature of art, and the reaction of the media and individuals to art, are even more fascinating. The reflections offered by Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times chief art critic, are especially thought-provoking. The extras included with the film are not to be missed, for they go even deeper into the philosophical questions, and add much to the basic story presented in the film itself. Highly recommended!"
Well, perhaps YOUR kid could paint that...
J. Arena | Williamsburg, VA | 09/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This documentary exposes, in a very objective manner, the manipulations of the "art world," the media and a very young child by parents.
Parents are ultimately charged with assuring the well-being of their offspring. This is a not-for-profit endeavor. I was as disturbed by the actions of these parents as I am by the pushy stage mothers who dress their daughters up as mini-adults and parade them on stage to win pageants. I perceive that the father in this story would be just as easily at home on a Little League field bullying an umpire as well as engineering this greed and publicity driven scheme.
My heart was also aching for the little brother. The scene depicting him pulling on his father's chair, seeming to beg for attention by announcing that he also painted while "in his mother's belly" spoke volumes.
I viewed the father as a strutting peacock who glories in the exploitation of this situation, and squirmed with discomfort as I watched the mother seem to gain sudden "awareness" while watching the televised expose. When that dawn came, it did nothing to bring the exploitation to an end. The documentary later shows her tearfully regretting what has transpired, but this masterpiece of manipulation and exploitation continues. Therefore, I hold her just as culpable as the father, who is the ring-master of this sad circus.
What is tremendously clear in this documentary is that this situation had become quite disturbing, that this negativity was abundantly clear to the parents, and that they fostered the continuation of the exploitation.
This is a brilliant and objective but very disturbing film."
A matter of interpretation
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 05/15/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This documentary ends with the credits rolling down the screen and Bob Dylan singing "Everything's gonna be different When I Paint My Masterpiece." The sense of yearning and a kind of dissatisfaction with what you know that life is going to bring that Dylan expresses in his song is the way so many parents feel about their children. They want everything for them. They want to give them advantages they never had. They see in their children the good genetic parts of themselves and their spouses (and in-laws!) and yet sometimes they want to yell at themselves: Stop that! Let the child be. Let the child be a child.
This is the way Laura Olmstead no doubt felt about her daughter Marla. Four-year-old Marla loved to paint and seemed to have some kind of unusual facility for color and expression. Her paintings came out like little works of art, and then bigger works of art, and then suddenly they were selling for tens of thousands of dollars and little Marla was having art shows in New York City.
Abstract impressionism is considered by some to express the inner workings of our consciousness, to describe in form and color a deep artistic and human truth. To others it is a scam. Mark Olmstead, Marla's father--not exactly an ingénue when it comes to art--encouraged his daughter in her work. He bought paints and took the time to be with her while she was painting. At some point he began to put the canvas on the floor. Occasionally he allows (late in the documentary) that he taught her to PULL the brush, not push it. But he swears he never finished or touched up her work.
Marla became famous and the family garnered some $300,000 from her paintings, with millions more offered if and when she would paint some more. Laura had misgivings, was uneasy, but she wasn't sure why. Mark saw no downside. Little red dots appeared beside her paintings at show, indicating that the paintings had been sold. Indeed all her paintings had sold. Curiously a friend named Anthony Brunelli, ironically himself a painter working in photo realism, which I suppose is as far as you can get from the abstract, served as a sometime broker and dealer. It was as though the artist, four-year-old Marla had indeed painted her masterpiece and was living the life of a princess in a fairytale.
And then came a "Sixty Minutes" piece on Marla the prodigy showing her at work. But somehow something wasn't quite right. A child psychologist was interviewed who had looked at the video and said that it didn't look like this child was doing anything that a normal child of her age wouldn't do, and intimated further that you could clearly see the father's guiding hand. The implication was that Mark had "finished" the paintings or had authored them himself!
Marla is a pretty and vivacious little girl. Her mother seems the very embodiment of common sense. Mark seems like a loving and nurturing father. But they become targets of hate mail. Amazing. A segment of the public believes that the parents are scam artists and have bilked a gullible public.
Enter documentary film maker Amir Bar-Ley. He convinces the Olmsteads to allow him into their home with the idea that while making his documentary he will film an entire sequence with Marla at work on one of her masterpieces from start to finish with no help from Dad or anybody else to prove that she is genuine. What we see at times is a reluctant Marla who wants her dad to draw a face or to suggest something.
Mark is caught, not in a lie, but in the logic of his situation. Yes, he had to have "helped" her and there is no doubt (at least to this observer) that in some of the works he guided her choice of colors and painting instruments, which would only be natural. But in the esoteric world of art collecting, if that is admitted, the value of her paintings would plummet. Not only that, but Marla's integrity as a prodigy and his reputation as someone presenting her art, would be compromised as well. So he is caught. And so also is Laura, who wants to tell us that she would love to take a lie-detector test to prove that she in no way misrepresented her daughter's work or her involvement in it.
Whether Mark went further than guiding her is a question that the documentary leaves open to interpretation. The one work shown as completely Marla's (as evidenced by its composition being recorded on film) called "Ocean" may be seen as not on the same level of achievement as her other works. Again this is a matter of interpretation.
In a sense this is also a story about people who buy abstract art for high prices. It is about the vanity of collectors.
How does it end? See for yourself, but of course it may not end until Marla is old and her parents are gone, and even then, what really happened, and what it really means is--as is always the case with art--a matter of interpretation.
(For what it's worth, I have little doubt that Marla was "marketed" especially by her father and Anthony. Just ask yourself, who chose the names for the paintings, "Ode to Pollock," Asian Sunrise," etc.? Not Marla, that is for sure. And when Marla says, I'm done. It's your turn, Dad, I think we get the picture. But I would tar with the brush of "human, all too human" only Mark, Tony and the art collectors, not Laura who knew they would be compromised in some way, and of course not little Marla who was as pure as gold throughout.) "
V. Barnes | 03/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I too watched the movie, all the extras, and then watched the movie itself AGAIN with the commentary track. So well constructed!
NO kid could paint that!
Charmerci | 12/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Really liked the movie. In it, the art critic and (I think) the filmmaker said that all art is a lie. Well, I disagree with that - good art is a window to the truth. A good film will be able to penetrate behind the layers of deception. This one did.
Just before the part where the parents were watching the 60 Minutes report on Marla, the first time doubts about her ability were brought up, I said to myself that I had not seen anything that the child did showed me that she could do those paintings. When showing her painting, her level of concentration was extraordinarily short (though typical of a 4 year old,) she stabbed and poked at the canvas. She wanted to play.
So the Olmsteads ended up doing their own video of her doing a painting called Ocean because she would never paint with the mastery of the high priced paintings whenever an outsider was filming. (That happened five times.) In the special features follow-up, one guy said Ocean didn't look like the others. Being into art, that was an understatement. She ends up painting in Ocean what looks like a Mickey Mouse representation. Look at the circle representing "Mickey's" head. Then look at all the other almost perfect circles that fill up some of her other earlier paintings. Look at all the solid, steady wide brushstrokes that encompass the other very large paintings like Triptych. Look at the long, steady drips on the paintings (one painting, on the follow-up feature has a "V" where each arm is three feet long) compared with the jagged ones on Ocean.
There's another painting where a collector says that one part of it looks like a pathway to a door. Look at how smooth, steady and solid the wide brushstrokes are that are completely absent in Ocean or in any video of her painting. On the cover of the DVD right here, look at those very long straight, even, smooth "drip" lines and again compare that to Ocean.
Near the end of the video there's a scene where she's painting on the floor, within a couple of minutes she TELLS her father 5 times to paint or to help her. This little 5 year old doesn't ask him to paint with her, she says paint or I won't do anymore.
Watch her paint (she is quite talented actually) and ask yourself, does she have the physical and mental ability to paint those very large paintings shown at the beginning of the film?
Mark Olmstead insists throughout the film that she painted everything without any help. NO WAY."