Everybody Knows… Elizabeth Murray
R1 - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (12th November 2017).
The Film

The title, a tongue in cheek joke of sorts, is a tribute to a female artist that struggled to receive due notice in the predominantly male ruled art world; she died of lung cancer at age 66 in 2007, but before she died she received her own retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, making her one of five women that was talented enough to receive such an honor. This film examines her life and her craft with Meryl Streep giving voice to her thoughts from her diary entries. As I watched this film, I forgot that the artist had died and that Streep was doing the voiceovers, so natural is Streep’s expression and conveyance of Murray’s thoughts and feelings. We see plenty of examples of Elizabeth Murray’s work in the film but seeing a huge work of art reduced to the size of a television screen robs the artwork of its dramatic presence and while it is nice to see a documentary dedicated to Murray, I yearned to stand in front of the work itself so that I could closely examine the twisting and turning shape of her canvases.

The film begins with an overview of Murray’s early life and upbringing in Chicago, Illinois and her difficult upbringing by mostly her mother, her father being a lawyer and gambler. Stories of riding the El all night long and escaping from hotel rooms via the fire escape was what substituted for normal for Murray and it was the intervention of a high school art teacher that allowed her to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1958-1962. From here she moved to New York City in 1967 and first exhibited her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art Annual Exhibition. Describing Murray’s work is difficult at best; there is a trace of whimsy with her use of sharply shaped canvases and domestic flavoring within an abstract world; she incorporated elements of cubism, neo-classicism and especially her bold use of bright colors attracted plenty of attention in the art world. There is a playfulness in her art that captures the onlooker’s gaze and her use of ordinary titles such as “Bop” and “Everybody Knows” allows the art to transcend the structured realms of ordinary art design.

Director Kristi Zea focuses her camera on both the artist’s work, both in progress and finished, but it is her outside life as a housewife and mother that shines through with interviews with her husband and her two daughters and son. Repeatedly the topic of how do you manage to be a brilliant artist and a regular person simultaneously is asked and the answer is not how but why would you separate the two? Apparently Murray was not one of those thin skinned artistes that are so obviously above us mere mortals and she comes across as a friendly and appreciative person that was always approachable and was constantly exploring the boundaries of art and creation. As I understand it, an artist isn’t just in the business to make money or achieve fame, but that they have something valuable to say and that is what they are doing with their artwork; the medium is indeed the message. Being a woman and a mother first was Murray’s role, but she was also an extremely driven creative person that was pushed to always find a way. Afterward she would discard the previous attempts and move on, once again attempting to get it right and saying forget it to various labels and schools of thought. The work should stand on its own merits, but at the same time reflect that they were created by someone that was all too human and real: a woman, a wife, a mother, a parent, a teacher, and an artist.

Punctuated throughout with various artists, critics and others, "Everybody Knows... Elizabeth Murray" is a gift to the legacy and work of a legendary painter. The only complaint that I have is that an hour was not sufficient time to allow the audience to absorb the works represented in the film and that this film could have been slowed down just a tad to linger on the works in detail and to give the viewer more than a taste of what they should seek out at their next visit to some of the countries great museums.

Video

Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film is a brief but enlightening look at the work and philosophy of a major woman artist, Elizabeth Murray. The camera work is steady and focused and under any number of different light sources, the artwork especially in long shot is shown to be massive and innovative, with its jagged design and primary colors. The interviews move along quickly and there are no dull parts or dead moments. The outdoor scenes are vibrant and colorful reflecting Murray’s love of the land and of nature.

Audio

A single audio track is featured in English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, a subtle but energetic soundtrack featuring Philip Glass’ music is used in the background and does not overshadow the interviews or the passages from Murray’s diaries. There are no optional subtitles.

Extras

Kino Lorber has included a series of additional interviews and some featurettes, below is a closer look.

Additional interviews features the following:

- "Vija Celmins: Artist" (6:40), she speaks about how Murray managed to combine work with motherhood.

- "Sapphire: Author & Performance Artist" (5:36), she speaks about how Murray’s work challenged its audience.

- "Deb Kass: Artist" (3:07), she speaks about how Murray set an example for other up and coming female artists.

- "Jerry Saltz: Art Critic" (4:02), he speaks about the bravery of Murray in exploring new territory.

"Chicago Slideshow Lecture" featurette (3:19), features various works by assorted artists that Murray would show during her lectures.

"Discussion at Pace Gallery: Rob Storr" featurette (8:05) discusses Murray’s work and her struggles as an artist.

"From Sketch to Painting" featurette (0:58) displays several sketches by Murray and the final work.

"Journal Sketches Slideshow" featurette (1:44), a display of various notebook sketches from Murray’s journals.

"Memorial Event Excerpts" featurette (8:09) several artists speak about their relationship with Murray at a memorial service, featuring Jennifer Bartlett, Trish Brown, and Meredith Monk.

"Struggles Being a Female Artist" (3:40), critics and fellow artists speak about the struggle to be recognized as a female artist.

Overall

This film is another sensitive documentary from Kino Lorber and company, this makes an excellent introduction to those that are not familiar with the works of Elizabeth Murray.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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