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Four year old Marla Olmstead from Binghamton, New York became the sensation of the art world for her abstract artwork, which have sold for thousands of dollars per piece. The showing of her work started off as a lark, but when the paintings sold without the buyers knowing who the artist was, the media began to run with the story. Through it all, Marla's parents, Mark Olmstead and Laura Olmstead, want to be grounded in what is best for their daughter while exposing her to whatever positive may come from the experience. But some negative and big name media also surfaces, some questioning whether Marla is the real artist behind the work, and some questioning exposing a four year old to such infamy. Regardless, the fact of this art selling brings up the legitimacy of abstract art being quantified as "quality", especially if a four year old can produce it but can't express the emotions or rationale behind its creation. Or is art truly in the eyes of the beholder? Regardless, money, in the ... Written by
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This documentary is outstanding in its capacity to make the viewer think. I'm sorry there are so few reviews of this here at IMDb because I would truly be interested in reading what other people have to say about this film. This is one of those stories, almost like a mystery, where you are left deciding on your own questions like "was this the real deal or was/is this a sham?" and "did this little girl do the paintings all my herself or did her dad embellish them?"
In 2004, four-year-old Marla Olmstead of Binghamton, New York, took the art world by storm. After an article by a Binghamton reporter, the New York Times picked up on it and, before you knew it, the little kid was a big celebrity. Her pieces were being sold for big bucks with much bigger profits on the way. Then, 60 Minutes did an expose raising doubts about whether she was on her own in this artwork. She went from child star to fraud, but then climbed back. All of this - and more - is documented on film by another guy, Amir Bar-Lev, who spent thousands of hours inside the Olmstead house interviewing and photographing the family. They hoped and assumed he'd be on their side, vindicating their daughter and themselves.
For those who found this story fascinating, I cannot recommend enough that you also watch the 35-minute behind-the-scenes bonus feature on the DVD called "Back To Binghamton." It was done last year, a few years after all the controversy. If you didn't have enough opinions after watching the main feature, you will after watching this "extra." It is extremely enlightening.
As a fellow reviewer, "tkelly-20" did here, I am going to add my "two cents." In a nutshell, here's how I viewed these people.
THE REPORTER - The only totally honest and common-sense person, perhaps, in the whole story is Elizabeth Cohen. As she states, this is a story about adults, not the child artist. She regrets ever doing the story and beginning the whole mess. I don't blame her.
THE PARENTS- If ever I've seen a person guilty on looks and body language alone, it has to be Marla's father, "Mark," who comes across as very shifty and as believable as a used car salesman. This guy, who is still bitter over the fact he never got his glory as a pro quarterback in the NFL, apparently will gladly take fame through his daughter. There is enough "evidence" here that he "polished" her artwork. The only legitimate defense he has is that the kid - who is honest like all real youngsters - hasn't said her daddy finished some of the paintings. Then again, the filmmaker didn't have the nerve, or thought it was inappropriate, to ask her.
Marla's mother, meanwhile, comes across as more sincere and innocent.....but she isn't. I think she knows what's going on but, perhaps, is caught in the middle, covering for her husband trying to protect her daughter. The most telling thing about her was in the bonus feature when she quickly withdrew her hand when her husband was going to hold it. She wants nothing to do with this guy - that's obvious. This marriage looks like a business arrangement all the way with greed and lust for fame empowering both of these parents. The both say they don't like all this publicity but they keep allowing themselves and their two little kids to be filmed day and night! They obviously relish this limelight, and it's disgusting. (I hope I'm wrong about this. I want to believe this family.)
THE ART WORLD - Gullible, pretentious and extremely prideful - that describes most of the "art people" in here, particularly art dealer Tony Brunelli. He, and others, have a pride problem in that they don't want to admit the Olmstead family has duped them from the start. Only one artist that I recall, another lady from Binghamton, who was shown on the bonus feature, told it straight and direct that she didn't believe any of this was legit. The worst pompous ass was - no surprise
the local college professor, who literally sounded insane. The world
of art, unfortunately, is filled with phonies who will foist anything on the public if they can make a buck. At the same time, they will look you in the eye and honestly tell you something is "art," like the neon sign in this movie that just has the words - "F--k" on it. That's "art," to these people. Sad that little Marla is exposed to this kind of thing.
THE PRODUCER & DIRECTOR - Like all of us, it's obvious Bar-Lev wanted to believe this family but the more he filmed and the more he interviewed, the more suspect this whole thing was, and at least he had the guts to tell the Olmstead parents his feelings at the end. They wanted a PR piece and now are upset at him. They shouldn't be; they should be grateful he didn't include a lot of things I saw in the out-takes, which really make them look like con men.
Overall, this is a very disturbing story and one which invites a lot of discussion. In that respect, Bar-Lev is to be congratulated for making a movie which has so much impact and room for debate.
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