The Ultimate Art Lover's Film Guide
Take a culture trip this long weekend without leaving your couch. Your ticket is this guide, composed of films about art and its weird, wondrous and sometimes withering world. From the inspiring to the satirical, they will carry you across time, space and medium.
To start the journey, dive into films about art insiders and outsiders, including the true story of a long-haul truck driver who happened across a Jackson Pollock. Next, learn from the greats with documentaries about art’s most daring minds and finally, behold films that themselves could be art. So prepare some popcorn and put on your thinking beret – the movie is about to start.
Attention film buffs: if you haven't already, check out Kanopy. A free resource for public library members and university students, this streaming platform has a cornucopia of documentaries and films. There's something for everyone.
Films about unlikely art stars that prove art can be for anyone.
At the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia a tiny cottage, decorated tip to toe with whimsical illustrations, fills an entire room. It’s creator and inhabitant was Maud Lewis, an iconic Canadian folk artist who despite navigating a difficult life, never ceased smiling.
In the charming film Maudie, Sally Hawkins is Lewis. Neglected by her family and born with debilitating birth defects, Lewis spent thirty-two years in a one room cottage without running water and electricity, defying odds to become one of Canada’s most beloved artists. Her delightful works have been commissioned by Richard Nixon, collected by state museums and placed on official Canadian postage stamps.
Watch Maudie on SBS On Demand.
Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?
Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? tells the unlikely story of Teri Horton, a 73-year-old former long-haul truck driver from California who may have unwittingly purchased a Jackson Pollock at an op shop for $5. What unfolds raises pertinent questions about social class and the art world, authenticity and what makes a work of art “great”.
Rent Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? on Vudu.
Herb and Dorothy
Perhaps on the flip side of Teri Horton’s story, is that of Herb and Dorothy Vogel. Like Horton, this couple were not stereotypical art world stars, employed by day as a librarian and postal service worker.
Where Horton was an accidental art collector however, the Vogels were dedicated. Across their lifetime, they amassed one of the most important collections of post-1960s minimalist and conceptual art in the United States. Herb and Dorothy tells their story, making a bold case for why art doesn’t and ought not to be girt by socio-economic barriers.
Watch Herb and Dorothy on Kanopy.
Peek inside the world of art.
The Price of Everything
Now step inside the art world’s innards. In The Price of Everything, documentarian Nathaniel Kahn examines the perplexing question of why some works earn big at auction while others are barely noticed. Rather than just a condemnation of commerce culture however, the film strikes nuance – finding that on some level, placing monetary value on art is necessary to its cultural survival.
As Kahn interviews a menagerie of art world figures from collectors to auctioneers and artists, he stitches together a philosophical meditation on what art is. This is a thrilling and thought-provoking ride.
Cutie and the Boxer
Cutie and the Boxer takes you inside the artist couple Ushio and Noriko Shinohara. As much about the creation of art as it is about the complexities of marriage, this cleareyed portrait resists diagnosis. Art and life are joined in a continuous loop as we learn what sacrifices, joys and resentments blossoms from two creative minds meeting, competing and marrying.
Watch Cutie and the Boxer on Kanopy.
Learn from the Greats
Get your inspiration fix with these portraits of an artist’s mind.
There’s no denying it: Brett Whiteley is a bonafide icon of Australian art. He was genuinely inventive, presenting a vision that was sprawling, epic and unabashedly subjective.
Whiteley’s story is familiar not only due to his celebrity, but also because of its universality. He was an artist of perhaps genius pedigree, fated to battle demons until his untimely death; in Whiteley, this myth is humanised. Told through his diaries, photographs, work and former wife Wendy, the film finds grace in Whiteley’s life, while still nourishing us with his art.
Watch Whiteley on Kanopy.
The Artist is Present
There’s also the The Artist is Present, a 2012 documentary that follows famed performance artist Marina Abromovic as she prepares for a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art New York. Part portrait of a singular mind part epic love story, the film thinks deeply about what it means to live life as art.
Watch The Artist is Present on Kanopy.
Film As Art
Works of art themselves, these films are provocations, visual feasts and art in motion.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
If Exit Through the Gift Shop was a figurine, it would be a Russian nesting doll. At first appearances, the film is about how voyeur (and eventual participant) of underground art escapades, Thierry Guetta, befriended Banksy’s peer, Mr. Brainwash. As it progresses however, one finds themselves asking: do Mr. Brainwash or Guetta even exist?
This postmodern faux-umentary is directed by Banksy. Fittingly it toys with the permeable lines between artifice and reality, as well as art’s flirtations with celebrity, spectacle and the construction of truth. This is a film with a punchline that smarts long after hitting – it’s art film as prank, from the art world’s most famous prankster.
Watch Exit Through the Gift Shop on Stan.
Girl with a Pearl Earring
For the Girl with a Pearl Earring, to paint someone’s likeness, is to possess them. Based on Tracey Chevalier’s book, this film tells the imagined story of Johannes Vermeer’s eponymous painting. It posits that the work’s subject was Greit, Vermeer’s beautiful and impecunious maid.
Under director Peter Webber, Girl with a Pearl Earring is both as hushedly beautiful as one of Vermeer’s works and deeply morally troubling. Desired by both Vermeer and his lecherous patron, Greit’s agency becomes collateral in a bid to own her image with consequences that court ideas around artistic imperatives, the act of looking, money, power and sex.
Rent Girl with a Pearl Earring on Google.
Another film that echoes the aesthetic of its subject is Loving Vincent. An astounding visual experience cut with careful empathy, this film uses tens of thousands of oil paintings by scores of artists to transform works of modern art into animation. The result is hypnotic – a genuinely unique journey into not only Van Gogh’s life, but the art historical canon itself.
Watch Loving Vincent on Stan.