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Joan Mitchell: Portrait of An Abstract Painter

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Editorial Reviews

A powerful and intimate portrait, JOAN MITCHELL: PORTRAIT OF AN ABSTRACT PAINTER captures Mitchell's independent spirit and testifies eloquently to Mitchell's art. One of the great abstract painters of the 20th century, Mitchell was an active participant of New York's dynamic Abstract Expressionist scene and hung out with fellow painters Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston, as well as poets Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler and John Ashbery. In the mid-fifties, she moved to Paris, where she was part of a circle of friends that included Pierre Matisse, Samuel Beckett and Alberto Giacometti. This elegantly edited documentary weaves together interviews with the acerbic Mitchell and other leading painters and critics, while letting her stunning pictures dominate the film. Stephen Holden of the New York Times says, 'The canvases have grand chaotic romanticism. While celebrating the physical universe with an ecstatic love of color, they don't shy away from expressing a harsh, feral apprehension of nature and its violence.'


Product Details

  • Actors: Joan Mitchell
  • Directors: Marion Cajori
  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Arthouse Films
  • DVD Release Date: July 27, 2010
  • Run Time: 58 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B003ELMR8U
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,058 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Joan Mitchell: Portrait of An Abstract Painter" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By janjamm on December 25, 2010
Format: DVD
Joan Mitchell's work is explicitly astonishing. This film is elegant, imaginative, graceful. Mitchell is a hard person to pin down and I think it is because, like her paintings, she just is. What she sees is spared her conscious manipulation, emerging uncensored. I like the idea that her paintings are like poetry, in the way a poem is not a statement but a summary of feelings that somehow cohere into a meaning which can only be felt, rather than spoken. There's just the moving feeling. Her work is organic and fierce and much to be admired. This film did such a good job of introducing me to Mitchell, even though Mitchell resisted the filmmakers. I don't think her resistance is intentional. I think that Mitchell is just a rare, visual creature for whom words are wholly inadequate. I watched it twice in a row.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Draftsman on July 25, 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This film portrays a painter who died in 1992 but whose reputation is still growing. As we get further from the Abstract Expressionist period and the macho myths that defined it, we are able to see more clearly the merits of some of the painters who were outside the canon. Joan Mitchell moved to France in the 1960's, and she continued to develop her art outside the New York hothouse. Some of her greatest work came towards the end of her life in the 1980's and 90's, and we see that here. Her best paintings, such as the Grande Vallee series, rank with the work of people like Kline, de Kooning, and Sam Francis.

She is not an easy interview, though. The film shows her evasiveness and unwillingness to be pinned down on art or her private life, which was tumultuous and fraught with drinking and disappointment. Yet somehow she was able to channel the pain and difficulty into creating very great art, and this video is a fine introduction.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Chauncey on April 17, 2012
Format: DVD
This DVD has as its subject perhaps the greatest abstract expressionist of the second generation: Joan Mitchell. It's a pity that the makers did not have enough expertise to hire a cinematographer who knows how to photograph art, or an editor who understands that the viewer wants to look at the works at length. Most of the pictures not only are shown too briefly, but, unpardonably, are often not in sharp focus.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By N. NATALE on October 15, 2012
Format: Amazon Instant Video Verified Purchase
I thought this DVD did a good job on Joan Mitchell's bio and work overall. I think it could have been edited better to cut down on the time given to her young artist friends because their work was not very interesting, but maybe this is something Joan herself wanted to be included. Her long and influential relationship with Riopelle was not given much time, nor was her relationship with Barney Rosset. I'm not saying that she should be defined by these men, but it does seem that her life and work was deeply affected by them. She was also a pre-feminist woman who, while her work was certainly strong and independent, suffered because her self image was colored so much by her relationships with men and she did not like to think of herself as a feminist.

As to the coverage of her work, I would like to have seen more about how she influenced contemporary painters today - women and men. Also, more about her own place in contemporary art. I thought there needed to be more contextualizing of her work and I would like to have seen more of her work besides the Grande Vallee in a gallery setting so that the size and scope of her earlier work could be better appreciated. Just seeing the paintings themselves on the screen does not give a good idea of their size or how viewers would relate to them in person.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Arnold Levine on October 5, 2013
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The film was interesting but the "Art Speak " by Brice Marden Ruined it for me. It was never really clear why he is in the film to begin with,as his work and ideas are about as distant from hers, as the Republican Tea party is from reality!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Judy A. McNutt on March 19, 2015
Format: Amazon Instant Video Verified Purchase
Perhaps one of the greatest abstract expressionists, Joan Mitchell deserved a more professional treatment of her work: I wished throughout for a cinematographer who knew how to photograph art (better focus, for example!); and/or how about an editor who understands that we REALLY want to look at the work at length and in varying perspective? Better than nothing at all, I guess for her pieces are truly astounding and far outstrip her grumpy, awkward, mumbly, slurred, repetitive and self contradictory dialog. Not her fault so much as the fault of the editor and idiotic interviewer. Joan's point is that "the story is in the art itself" and we are barely able to experience a cursory glance. Perhaps I'll try and find a decent enough book so I can peer and ponder on my own.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By toronto on December 23, 2011
Format: DVD
This is a fine video of Joan Mitchell -- a great, great painter. The paintings are luminescent, and some of the photography in the film matches them for the beauty (ah, Paris). The only drawback is that it is too short: one wants just more.

Of course there is another drawback, which is that the discussions about art in the movie are silly. Mitchell is constantly saying I can't talk about what I do, and meanwhile the people around her who talk about her pictures are embarassing themselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Eric J Raff on September 22, 2013
Format: Amazon Instant Video
A very interesting documentary about a very talent artist. I enjoyed the insight provided into Joan Mitchel's personality however, I would have liked to have known more about her earlier development as an artist and her interactions with the other abstract expressionists, which wasn't really covered much in this documentary.
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