Manet: Portraying Life Phil Grabsky

Manet: Portraying Life Phil Grabsky
Much like his 2012 HD film, Leonardo Live, an ersatz recreation and documentation of the works and experiences of the "Painter in the Court of Milan" Leonard Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery in London, Phil Grabsky's Manet: Portraying Life is more of a template piece or overview of a gallery show than a conventional film.

This time, the portraits of 19th Century realist painter and (considered by some to be) the "father of modern painting," ÉdouardManet, are on display, showing at the Royal Academy in London.

The structure is simple: works such as "The Luncheon," "The Railway" and "Music in the Tuileries Garden" are given protracted screen time and then placed in the background while art historian Tim Marlow interviews various art enthusiasts (actress Fiona Shaw and painter Tom Phillips, to name a couple). They discuss his use of black, distinguishing him from the impressionists of the time, as well as his propensity for juxtaposing portraiture with slightly askew environments.

His tendency to force the eye around the canvas by triangulating reds or manipulating the sight line of his subjects, both in the foreground and background, is wonderfully explicated, even though some interpretations of his juxtaposition of subjects in unconventional locales are discussed broadly and, at times, glibly.

Mixed with these discussions are detailed breakdowns of how paintings are shipped between galleries and a bit of history on Manet, chiefly his affluence and eventual death, succumbing to syphilis.

Portraying Life isn't as dynamic or comprehensive as Leonardo Live; we never learn about the gallery layout or the thematic progression of the show. It's all a bit oblique, making it less of an experiential journey than an informative one.

This shift in focus could have to do with criticisms that films and exhibitions are entirely different mediums, making the literal video construction a clumsy redundancy. But some idea of the physical space and how the portraits were laid out, beyond panning gallery shots, might have left more of an impression beyond what is available through Google.

This is particularly of interest seeing as those drawn to a film like this will already be familiar with cultural interpretations of Manet's work and its influence. Extended discussions about his ability to make his subjects jump out of the frame likely won't surprise or compel anyone other than casual dilettantes. (Front Row Centre Events)