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I was fortunate enough to see some of Francesca's work at the SF MOMA earlier this year. Her photos, seeming to both express and erase herself at the same time, were fascinating.
The "Polka Dot" image alone was what called me to the exhibit...
Here is an oddly cropped version from the cover of a posthumous book
go to wiki and Keller2011FrancescaWoodmanBookDustJacketFront.jpg
Anyways, this film is indeed called "The Woodmans" and obviously the intent was to focus on all the artists in the family: Mom, Dad, Brother Charlie and Francesca, who killed herself over 30 years ago.
Yes, ideally her art should (and can) stand separate from her suicide, but there is some eerie harmony between the work and her suicide. Art is more clearly about choices than life, in art there is much more control, whereas in life, control is at best an illusion.
I didn't go into the film expecting it to be a mystery, and I steadfastly tried to avoid any judgment of the parents, even though I felt the filmmaker was pushing us towards one at times. Betty's comments about a therapist and a family Francesca babysat for, and then George's comment about the timing of her death, well they pushed me towards psychoanalysis. Ultimately Georges photo shoot is unfurled, and I'm curious if anyone felt was not at least a little creepy. Meanwhile the friends and other testifiers on behalf of Francesca if anything made her feel more remote than anything. Especially the sweet neighbor whose friendship sadly must have come before two or three major changes in Francesca...
They seemed from two different worlds, united by a kindergarten lifetimes ago. Even the parents, at this point have spent more time without Francesca then they did with her. What I might over analyze as willful detachment, could just as well be a weary detachment at this point.
Ultimately she is gone. And the film just underscores that. I'm not sure what I would do in her parent's stead, feel honored with a hint of agony? Maybe wish it away until I'm gone, and then let her brother handle it (if he wanted to?) I don't have the all-consuming near religious belief in art as they do. Seeing that was the most striking aspect of the film. For better or worse.
I had hope for more footage of Franscesca speaking for herself, instead they offered scribbled diary pages and then even excerpted those. I paused them at times, looking for more in the margins. Whether the film meant to just augment her mystique, or could not find its way in the few scraps left of Francesca, I do not know.
In the end, I think people are better served spending time with her artwork then this film, here's a nice set via UC Berkeley online
During the film, I felt the images came and went too quickly. Not just for her, but for the other family members as well (Charlie in particular got the shortest shrift, his stuff looked more interesting to me than the parents.) Even at the exhibition, it was so crowded that the experience was diminished for me a bit, when looking alone at these photos now, it works better, in the quiet and stillness.
Evidently her work strikes a resonance with young female artists, however I am excluded from all three categories, and still find her work charged. We all struggle with meaningless in our lives, but for her to have captured meaningful photos during that struggle, that's the film I wanted to watch.
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