Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait
Cohen Film Collection // Unrated // $3.99 // November 7, 2017
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted July 3, 2018
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The Movie:

I know of Julian Schnabel fairly superficially as a director (save for his work in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and a little less as a painter. It's not by conscious choice per se, just that he wasn't doing enough movies for me to have an interest in him take hold I guess. He appears to be an interesting enough figure, as A Private Portrait, a documentary covering his life and work, appears to portray.

Pappi Corsicato directed the film, which covers Schnabel's life from his origins in Texas, to his move to New York as a child with his family. His emergence as an artist in New York is shown as well as an emergence into film direction. Through the film, interviews with Schnabel's family and children are given time on screen, as is interviews with his friends, including Al Pacino (a href="https://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/64906/any-given-sunday-anniversary-edition/">Any Given Sunday), Willem Defoe (a href="https://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/64797/fault-in-our-stars-the/">The Fault in Our Stars), Bono and Laurie Anderson. Everyone has a thought or story to share about Schnabel.

Schnabel's entrance into moviemaking seems to be an afterthought; a director was talking about making a movie on his friend Jean-Michel Basquiat; Schnabel thought he could and should take a stab at it and the rest from the director's chair is history, as the saying goes. Similar personal connections to stories encompass Schnabel's filmography, whether it's his friend Lou Reed and Berlin or having an awareness of Jean-Dominique Bauby for Butterfly.

His works in films takes a backseat to his influence in the art world as a neoexpressionalist; the film starts by showing Schnabel in Italy diving into the ocean, then the film movies to his 17-story home in New York City. You'll recognize it as it's the one painted pink. And everyone interviewed about him discusses watching him work as a painter, though some share their thoughts on him as a director. And to be clear, seeing these paintings and Schnabel's transformation of them into works of art is fascinating to watch at times.

Lots of times in the movie however, there tends to be a lack of connection that Schnabel makes with the viewer. It's one thing of course to try and get people to learn and appreciate a movie about a painter and movie director, it's another to get you to connect with them, and there is a certain mutual nature that is inherent in that. Schnabel is unwilling or unable to provide it and such, A Private Portrait is hampered by it.

A Private Portrait of Julian Schnabel did inspire me to look deeper into Schnabel's work on canvas and celluloid to be clear, but I got little out of watching the film past Schnabel being more eccentric than interesting or compelling and there is going to be a natural disconnect between him and me or him and others that people aren't going to get. It appears to be a candid documentary with loads of pictures, old videos and current interviews, but there simply wasn't much past that to glean from Schnabel or the movie, and it left me feeling a little hollow.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

A 1.78:1 widescreen transfer with an AVC encode and uses a variety of different sources from stills, to Schnabel's film work, to handheld digital interviews and they all are as clear as the source material allows. One moment where Butterfly star Mathieu Amalric slapping the one holding the camera to illustration visual style for the filme he and Schnabel worked on is a wakeup, to be sure. But past that, not a lot to consider a superstar when watching the movie.

The Sound:

DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround. Aside from the stuff in the films (or in Schnabel introducing Reed for a concert), the film isn't very dynamic, or includes anything in the way of directional effects or channel panning. Interviews sound clean and consistent as much as one could expect of a broad soundstage to listen to. Can't say I was surprised, just a touch disappointed.

The Extras:

Just a trailer. Eh.

Final Thoughts:

I think a 90-minute documentary on the life and work of Julian Schnabel may probably resonate in some quarters, but it didn't with me. It wasn't good or bad, it was just there, occupying a space as his paintings and movies appear to be doing these days. Technically the disc was fine and the lack of extras was a little bummer. If you're a fan of Schnabel's art in its various mediums, you should certainly give this a spin.

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