Seventh Art Productions // 2009 // 115 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // February 16th, 2012
In this series I'm going to talk to a number of creative people about the importance of art in their lives.
Tim Marlow is an art historian who had the good sense to avoid a lifetime sitting in stuffy rooms and instead turned his Ryan Seacrest-like good looks to his advantage. He has toured many of the finest art museums in the world to showcase artwork on his British television program, but for this film he went a different direction. He picked out five famous people and asked them to show him their favorite artwork and talk about why it is important to them. The result is Marlow Meets: Series One.
Marlow himself comes across as a bit of an enigma. He is reasonably engaging and passably charismatic, but his interviewing skills need some work. He never feels fully engaged in the questions he's asking. It's quite clear when he disagrees with his guests' interpretations, and he often seems to be forcibly holding himself back from launching into his own opinions.
Each of the segments is twenty-three minutes long, but they feel shorter or longer depending on the guest. Paul Smith, for instance, is so engaging and honest that his flies by, whereas Renee Fleming's segment seems to take an hour. Ex-Monty Pythoner Michael Palin chooses Tate Modern in London, and starts with an impressionistic J. M. W. Turner paining featuring a sunrise that reminds him of a picture from his youth. Marlow clings to that information and tries to tie the rest of Palin's choices to his past. At every picture, he says some form of, "So how has this affected your life?" Whether or not it was Palin's original plan, his segment thus becomes a sort of chronological journey.
Director Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies) is an energetic Englishman who holds a deep passion for cartoons, especially older ones. He takes Marlow to the Cartoon Museum in London, where he kind of cheats. Each person is supposed to show just a few pieces of art, but Leigh can't help point out several of the companion pieces hanging near his chosen works.
Tony Bennett's segment is less about the art and more about the man. It's clear that Marlow holds the old guy in high esteem...or, at least, assumes his audience does. Bennett takes Marlow through the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and his taste is pure classical. Rembrandt "haunts" him and, as one might expect from a singer, his two favorite pieces stick out for him because they have "soul."
Fashion designer Paul Smith comes across as the most real person in the entire show. His enthusiasm and self-deprecation cross over to his studio, which is filled with a huge variety of artwork and random bicycles, along with piles of notebooks, magazines, and fabric scraps. He doesn't claim any high purpose or meaning in the works he chooses; he just chooses them 'cause he likes them.
For those who don't follow opera, Renee Fleming is a famous soprano. Her segment is by far the most scripted-feeling. It's as if she's answering questions for an A&E biographer, and she feels her legacy is on the line with every word she utters. She takes Marlow through the New York's Neue Galerie and Chuck Close's very exclusive studio.
The camerawork does a rather poor job of staging the artwork. Everything is shot from a straight-on angle that does nothing to maximize the details of the art and, in fact, sometimes hinders the view. For instance, close-up shots of heavily-layered paintings do nothing to filter out the light reflecting from the paint, which ironically cancels out the very detail they're trying to show. Add on sloppy post-production values and the show becomes something less than the visual feast it should be. The 1.78:1 anamorphic picture suffers from moments of pixilation and a fish-eye-lens effect whenever someone moves more than a few steps, the apparent result of panning-and-scanning the original full screen picture in order to stretch it out. Aside from the generic music splitting the scenes, the only sound is talking, so the center-heavy Dolby 2.0 stereo is more than adequate. There are no extras.
Poor camerawork and amateur interviewing aside, Palin, Leigh, Smith, and Bennett's enthusiasm and simple enjoyment of their choices are enough to recommend this for anyone interested in any of the people or in art in general. You might not learn much about art, but you will feel closer to most of the people.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Seventh Art Productions
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated