Alice Neel 

Directed by Andrew Neel

Andrew Neel directs a bio-doc about his grandmother, Alice Neel, the portrait painter who, throughout the 20th century, produced a body of work that was just as accomplished as her better-known counterparts, if a little obscure.

I expected that this story would be heavily slanted one way or another by merit of the director’s relationship to the subject, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Alice herself, seen in a great deal of archival footage, comes off as brilliant and demented. The merit of her work is countered by an eye-raising home life. Her children and grandchildren often speak ill of her, and there is an uncomfortable scene where she has one of her children pose nude for a portrait. That Neel could stand back and view his grandmother with a certain sense of objectivity is admirable and effective.

There are a few problems with the sound quality in the archival footage, but by and large, Neel has crafted a well-made film. His timing with editing and music are both impressive; of a recent spate of movies about artists, from The Collector to How to Draw a Bunny, Alice Neel is easily the class of the bunch.

Opens April 20 at Cinema Village

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