The Painter Sam Francis
Directed by Jeffrey Perkins
The Painter Sam Francis, billed as an intimate look at the artist's life by longtime friend and fellow artist Jeffrey Perkins, would seem to belie its own title, delving past the façade of the artist and into the life of The Man Sam Francis. However, while we learn much about both his art and his life, the documentary remains true to its title. Francis' life and art turn out to be one in the same; the man Sam Francis cannot be severed from the painter Sam Francis. His unique relationship with art is perhaps due to his belief in its restorative properties (Francis' first painterly experiments occurred while he was bed-ridden with spinal tuberculosis, and he never relented in his belief that it was art that saved him). Throughout the rest of his life, whether it was his keen attention to his dreams, a second round of painting through sickness — this time a urogenital strain of tuberculosis which instigated his "Blue Ball" period — or the destructive influence of fame on his personal life, art would serve as both a sustaining force and an ever-present drain.
Perkins takes great care in unfolding this complex relationship giving ample freedom and discretion to his interviewees who, in turn, maintain a respectful deference to the artist. By the end of his life, Francis had married and re-married five times and fathered several children. His strengths and shortcomings as a husband and father are stated outright during some interviews, alluded to in others. Throughout, his paintings serve as a record of his life's vicissitudes: the timid, optimistic "white paintings" of his early years transform into grave, plodding, paint-heavy compositions late in his life. To a certain extent, the documentary merely reiterates what Francis had already put down on canvas. But aside from the privileged recordings of the artist's lyric brush strokes, an affecting sight indeed, The Painter Sam Francis cannot reveal much more than the paintings do themselves, and that limit is not a dead end, but a revelation.
Opens September 11 at Anthology Film Archives