Combustible Celluloid
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With: Johan af Klint, Julia Voss, Ulla af Klint, Josiah McEhleny, Iris Müller-Westermann, Valeria Napoleone, Ernst Peter Fischer
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Halina Dyrschka
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 94
Date: 04/17/2020

Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Getting the Picture

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This documentary, which is available at home courtesy of Kino Now, tells the story of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), who may have been the first abstract painter in history, but whose works never (or rarely) saw exhibition. Remarkably, her style seems to have evolved not from a need to turn a current artistic trend on its side, but through her ravenous study of everything that makes up our world, including science, nature, gender, mathematics, and just about everything else. She realized that the things we can actually see are only a small part of what actually exists, and she tried to visualize all of that, everything, through her paintings. This suggests some kind of incredible genius, though apparently not much of Hilma's private life is known outside of the fact that she had a friend who may also have been her benefactor, and that she purchased a lot of eggs (with which she likely painted).

Directed by Halina Dyrschka, Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint employs many silly documentary techniques, seemingly meant to stretch the running time or provide more "visual" appeal, such as an unseen actress looking at paintings in a museum, or re-creating af Kint's works, some weird shading over the faces of interviewees, and that old staple, the slowly rolling focus over fields of flowers. The movie also spends a lot of time complaining about the rigidity of a male-centric art history, and how af Klint has been ignored, and continues to be underappreciated, as well as so many other women artists. It's a great story, but the film itself is a little on the dry side, more like an art lecture than a visit to a museum. It could have been more vibrant and mysterious, like, say Finding Vivian Maier (2013), but it nevertheless does a fine job of showing the paintings, and providing a context for them, as well as shedding new light on an essential talent.

Kino Lorber released a fine Blu-ray in the summer of 2020, with 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks, and an excellent transfer. Bonuses include five deleted scenes, interviews with historian Ernst Peter Fischer (15 mins.), an interview with Ulla af Klint (5 mins.), a wonderful picture gallery that runs about 8 minutes, and trailers for this and four other KL movies.

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