A Valuable Documentary Of A Highly Self-Conscious Artist Who
rsoonsa | Lake Isabella, California | 11/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This well-edited work's text is written by Neil Baldwin, author of a definitive biography, MAN RAY: AMERICAN ARTIST, and is sturdily narrated by Stockard Channing as it depicts, in a generally linear manner, many aspects of a versatile and influential Surrealist's career, a man who refused to be ignored, born Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 Philadelphia, growing up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and dying in 1976 in the Left Bank Parisian district of Montparnasse, a long life during which he was responsible for disturbing a sense of order held by many high-minded aesthetes. This documentary stresses that the days of his youth were filled with the sap of rebellion. Following his early fascination with Emma Goldman's brand of anarchism (Ray contributed illustrated covers for her periodical Mother Earth), the callow artist took groundbreaking photographer Alfred Stieglitz as mentor, a significant early influence, but after the notorious 1913 Armory Show astonished New York City's followers of trends in art, Ray adopted Cubism and Expressionism as metiers until, three years after, Tristan Tzara's Dada movement found in him an enthusiastic disciple, and one who began a lifelong friendship at that time with fellow Dada acolyte Marcel Duchamp, creator of NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE, No. 2 that became the cardinal cause celebre at the Armory. A failed marriage and a shortage of monetary reward from his art drove Ray from New York and to Paris where Dadaism was being blended into Surrealism, and where Kiki of Montparnasse became his essential muse. It is from this period that viewers are shown a remarkable photograph of Marcel Proust upon his death bed, as well as wonderful examples of "Rayogrammes", works made by a process wherein no camera is utilized, subjects instead being placed directly upon photographic paper and then developed. This documentary's noteworthy reproductions of several of these pieces are representative of the signal care all round that marks the American Masters (WNET) production. We hear from the absorbing narration a mention that Ray was a "subsidized pet of French nobility", but Paris was also accountable for the presence of the striking Lee Miller in his existence, this former model of photographer Edward Steichen having a lasting impact upon the natively talented Ray, whose best efforts followed her appearance and were stimulated by Miller's fashion background, he in turn sharply altering the state of fashion photography. From approximately this time a viewer sees his "Obstruction", an exhibited entanglement of clothes hangers that anticipate the mobiles of Alexander Calder. Due to war in Europe, Ray left Paris in 1940, soon settling in Hollywood at an apartment on Vine Street near Sunset Boulevard where he resided for 20 years before returning to his beloved Montparnasse for his last decade and one half. When asked if he is ahead of his time he replies "I'm of my time; it's the others who are behind the times" (sic). Man Ray became a photographer as means of achieving a regular income, and while his preference for artistic endeavour was always painting, his unique photographic compositions are his most valued legacy to the world. Oddly, this creative individual's pronouncements are, for the most part banal, his most telling statement in this film being "I wanted to be accepted, not understood". An excellent DVD version includes candid film footage made by Man Ray and a hitherto unseen videotaped interview of him that was located within a storage area of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, and also archival drawings from his school days that had remained unseen for 90 years."
A good start
B. Scrivener | 10/09/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you'd like to know something about Man Ray, this competent if occasionally flat-footed made-for-TV documentary is a good place to start. And if you aren't curious about Man Ray, maybe you ought to be. You've probably seen many of the images and objects shown here -- whether presented straight, appropriated, hommage'd, parodied, or otherwise -- without realizing Man Ray was the originator.
This documentary tracks the artist's long, varied, and interesting life and career, using photographs, film clips, paintings, drawings, and works in other media, as well as interviews with surviving friends and associates, such as painter Dorothea Tanning and photographer Naomi Savage, Man Ray's niece and protégée. It also intersperses bits of several interviews that Man Ray himself gave toward the end of his life, allowing him comment in his own voice, often quite amusingly, on the events described. This, incidentally, reveals that the great man and life-long expatriate still spoke with a distinct Brooklyn accent -- as in, "a woik of art". The film describes Man Ray's posthumous ascent into the high-art firmament (his stuff now sells for a truckload of money), but oddly gives short shrift to his impact on the popular arts, which is arguably a more significant, if perhaps largely unintentional, accomplishment.
The script for this film was written by Neil Baldwin, author of the only comprehensive biography of Man Ray to date. Actress Stockard Channing narrates.
The DVD version offers virtually nothing in the way of extras. All that's here is a short written essay on Man Ray's colorful romantic life and its influence on his art, a subject that was already covered better in the film itself.
Finally, a couple of notes on other reviews here, to avoid confusion: 1.) There is no particular reason for those interested in Dora Maar to seek out this film. Although Man Ray was friendly with Maar and made some nice portraits of her, Maar was already an accomplished artist and photographer when she met Man Ray and never worked as his assistant. Perhaps the reviewer is partially confusing Maar with one or both of Man Ray's female assistants who became world famous photographers themselves: Lee Miller and Berenice Abbott. 2.) The documentary on Man Ray filmed in 1961, for French television, is not this one but something entirely different. That film is current available on VHS under the title "Montparnasse Revisited: A Life in the Day of Man Ray" and is also worth a look if this one whets your appetite."