The Woodmans (2010) Poster


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The Woodman
ThurstonHunger3 July 2012
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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How do artist parents-respond to their artist-daughter's suicide?
rlchianese2 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
When their avant-guarde artist daughter threw herself out a window to her death at 22, her artist-parents had to reassess their lives. The Woodmans focuses on what Betty and George Woodman do to find expression for their grief and their creativity.

Francesca was a photographer in the vein of Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe, photographing herself in various levels of undress in both dehumanized and sensuous postures. To say she was precocious is to miss the point—like many artist-wunderkinder, she was self-absorbed, schooled very early on by her parents to be an artist.

When she kills herself, perhaps out of frustration with her own languishing career, her ceramacist mother and abstract painter father try to move on with their own art. Betty switches to fine art ceramics and her father begins photographing young female nudes!

What we soon discover is that the inner dynamic of this family consumed by art may be a deflection from engaging each other at the very personal level. Can art, which tries to engage us emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, distract us from discovering our true inner self and deflect us from self-awareness at the deepest levels?

With ample images from Francesca's work and voicing from her videos and from detailed looks at her parents' art and their extensive comments about it, we are left to decide ourselves what was really going on in the hearts and souls and imaginations of these three creative people.
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What Lies Beneath, A Mystery.
celr10 July 2012
This strange documentary summarizes the lives of avant garde photographer Francesca Woodman and her artistic parents Betty and George. We know from the beginning that Francesca commits suicide and so we're alert to clues. Why do people commit suicide? It's very difficult to know, really, but in some cases we're able to see glaring contradictions in a person's family dynamic. The movie is mostly interviews with the parents. The mom, Betty, in particular, presents a strange and forbidding presence, goggling through thick brightly painted glasses, she seems arrogant and fragile at the same time. A narcissist, of course, but aren't most artists narcissistic?

A major clue is revealed near the beginning of the interview where the mom declares that she has dedicated her life to art and that she couldn't imagine living with a person who wasn't an artist, "I would come to hate that person!" she states. reveling her prejudice and intolerance for non-artists.

The mother's art is mediocre at best, large pottery shapes splotched with crude patterns in primary colors. Perhaps the mother envied the daughter's obvious talent for visual expression.

Most suicides by youngsters are the result of them feeling intolerably pressured by their parents' expectations. In Francesca's case there was a unquestioned directive: be an artist...or else! Francesca created her own style of art: pictures of her own, very attractive, nude body posed against shabby, desiccated interiors or wrapped in old wallpaper. The photographs, many of which are shown in the film, are stark, compelling and ironic. She was obviously very talented. She achieved some notice as a photographer, an artist in her own right, but as any artist must she experienced moments of self doubt. Since Francesca's expression was primarily visual and enigmatic her inarticulate diary excerpts, though quoted throughout, provide little insight into what she was going through. In any case her narrow though striking artistic style was bound to run our of new ideas, being so restricted in subject matter.

At some point Francesca thinks about giving up art and suggests maybe trying another course in life. Her mother is quick to put a stop to that: "That was ridiculous, of course; I told her, 'You can't DO anything else.'" I can only speculate, but the clues are pretty obvious. The talented but unhappy daughter must continue with a course that even she can recognize is a dead end, or face the hatred of her mother. Her therapist, a necessary accessory to people of that class, is useless, and her father, whose art is not at all bad, is a passive participant in the family drama.

As a whole the film is a downer like a slow-moving train wreck. It showcases Francesca's photography and is a sort of introduction to her work, but the intrusion of the parents, who may have been the motivation behind her success and eventually her downfall, is unwelcome except to provide clues to the mystery of her life and death. This film is just too long, it could have expressed the same material in half the time.
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An Exploration of the Nature of Art and the Artistic Temperament
atlasmb8 October 2013
Though it is a documentary, The Woodmans is itself a piece of art. Like much art, it asks and suggests more questions than it answers. The first question might be: is this a film about art or a film about human psychology? Or maybe it is about how the two are connected?

The Woodman family had four members, all of whom are/were dedicated to art, not just as an avocation, but as a way of life. The daughter, Francesca, committed suicide at a young age. Much of the film centers of her surviving family's perceptions of her life, her art, and what might have contributed to her suicide.

In the end, each viewer can take what they want from this film.

As a discussion of art, it touches on many common themes, especially the value or curse of art as self-expression. Does it have value simply because it allows the artist to express himself? Does affirmation from others make art more valuable? Does it have a therapeutic value? Francesca's mother says she stopped creating for a period after her suicide. When she resumed creating, was it a resumption of life? Or was the creation the impetus to go on living? She says that "art is about memory." Of course it can be much more than that.

Of course we must ask if art is about introspection, self-examination, self-indulgence, all of these? It can direct one's focus inward or outward. The father comments on the "fragile" and "vulnerable" nature of the artist. Is that due to the artistic temperament? Or the product of seeking affirmation from others?

He also observes that there may be a "psychic risk" of being an artist. This seems to be one of the central themes of the movie.

But perhaps Francesca's art (and her behavior) might have been a clue to what many will see as clinical depression. Are some drawn to her art because of her (flawed) vision, like they might be to Van Gogh's?

Whatever messages or questions one takes from this film, it does ask you to consider the nature of grieving and carrying on. And it might make one consider others in their own lives who have been or might have been victims of their own internal demons.

It also makes a statement about the temporal nature of life and the longevity of art.
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Woodman is a good name for this phony couple
eop197223 July 2018
Her parents are absolutely awful people. I was interested in Francesca's life and work and the film focuses mainly on her parents, who are just self-absorbed, truly abhorrent rich people ("artists") with no hearts. Brother is pretty bad, too. They aren't ashamed to express jealousy over the posthumous success of their dead daughter. Her dad even attempts to copy her work and not in a honorable kind of way. The comment the dad made about how he would "hate" his child if they weren't interested in art basically shows you what kind of people they are. "There's a little coffin. I'm afraid some poor child has departed" is one of the last lines of the doc, spoken by George as he sees a casket go by in Asia. What kind of weird comment is that? So flippant. I hate to say this knowing the outcome, but no wonder she suffered so much in life. I would, too, if those people were my caregivers who were supposed to love me and instead viewed me as an object secondary to their sculptures.
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This film was interesting yet disturbing for the wrong reasons
drkman_x22 June 2014
Setting aside all of her brilliant and groundbreaking work, I was highly troubled by the detached nature of her parents. They seemed more interested in advancing their own notoriety through their daughter's work. The life of Francesca seemed almost an aside to them.

The film itself was worth watching, but I got something entirely different from what I expected. I was left mourning this young woman and gained an understanding of what had her so troubled by seeing her parents casual, almost forced reactions to her death. Her friends were much more upset.

Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps they are so devastated by her death that detachment was the only way to cope. I wouldn't say I blame them, but its the way they seem to revel in the attention that had me disgusted.
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Exceptional movie
stillComputing6 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is a rare opportunity to follow the lives of three artists (the parents and Francesca, their daughter) and to experience the drive, passion, insecurities, and tensions involved in creating art.

Francesca's use of her own nudity in some of her work enhances what is already a rich visual experience with an intimacy with the artist. You get so close to the family and its dynamics—idyllic in many ways, such as living in beautiful surroundings (Colorado, New York, Italy) and facing mostly one's own internal challenges of being who you want to be, the most you can be, and accepted by others—that you are caught off guard as the "normal" trials and tribulations suddenly spiral out of control and Francesca leaps from a tall building.

Was it right for her boyfriend to have questioned whether her work was art--honesty versus support? Why should success matter that much? This sub-theme is gently explored in the contrast between the father's and mother's careers. You expect the movie to end with Francesca's death, but it continues on, on with the broader painting of the Woodmans' tapestry.

If you have ever questioned the meaning of life, the unfolding of this story would normally be a celebration of the drive and finding meaning, until it takes you right over the edge. How we suffer for what we care about. How we love what we create and want it to live.

I was deeply moved, made to reflect on emotions we all feel at times, and haunted by the fact that the story is not fiction, but true and told by the actual people, including Francesca.
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The Woodmans ,
patriot975510 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I liked it, it was well done and showed that serious Art and children do not mix well. The parents were for the most part what they had to be to create Art, they were complete artist and narcissists, and they were very good at both, but it left little room for parenting their children. Their daughter, who perhaps by their ques learned she was on her own early on, appeared for the most part quite needy, lonely, and sincerely obsessed with her art. Maybe as a way to bond remotely with her detached parents. The dedication of the parents to their craft was probably their daughters undoing but also the propulsion of their daughters genius. Yes they clearly loved their daughter, and they clearly feel a standard of guilt measured by all who have someone they take for granted until it's too late, and the parents seemed to be still in a lifelong recovery over their loss, trying to make up for their oversight. The parents seem to confront themselves about these issues and are honest and direct in what they thought they did well and the signals they missed, so I liked it, it was thought provoking and did not beg for sympathy.
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The pressure to be an Artist.
Metropolitan2110 June 2022
It is hard to see any work by Francesca Woodman without referencing Duane Michals' work during the 70s as well as Deborah Turbeville's, but this documentary does neither. Without context, we are led to believe that Francesca Woodman was some sort of photographic wunderkind, who at 13 picked up a camera and produced genius. But I guess that's what comes from being born into a family where everyone is an artist and is in love with the idea of creating Art (The mother states early on that she couldn't abide living with people who didn't create art). Much of FW reputation comes from her incredibly early demise as she committed suicide at aged 22, shortly after moving to New York and failing to gain the success she craved fast enough. Her early death casts a long shadow over her mysterious mis-en-scene photographs often featuring herself naked. Were the pictures a form of acting out? Was she trying to disappear into the walls? Nothing is explained in great detail, least of all, why she was seeing a therapist before she died. Did she have a history of mental health issues, having once attempted suicide before? Did she die of a broken heart? What exactly did she mean when she wrote in her diary. 'Another year of dishonesty'? The other Woodman family members are mildly interesting, but the documentary's main focus is on Francesca. Even after recollections by childhood friends, the end result is one of mystery, detachment and remoteness.

This documentary was shown with Elena (2012), a film on the life of the young Brazilian actress, Elena Andrade, who came to New York to become a movie star, but also tragically committed suicide at 21.
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A family of artists, with a tragedy at its center
wavecat1319 November 2020
This is a film about a very talented family of artists, with the focus on Francesca Woodman, a young photographer who committed suicide. Her parents, George and Betty, were passed their interests and work ethic on to their children. The areas they focused on were different, however. Betty did ceramics and painting, and achieved a high level of popularity. Son Charles does electronic art, and father George is presented as a mostly unsuccessful painter, which is misleading, because this Harvard grad was a professor at the University of Colorado in addition to his creative work.

The most intense member of the family was young Francesca, who made stunning black and white photos, mostly of her nude self in strange positions, and contrasted with fabrics and textured surfaces. She suffered from what sounds like bipolar disorder (her diagnosis was not mentioned) and committed suicide at age 22. She never got to see how popular and respected her work became. This tragedy is the heart of the movie, and you can see how it impacted her parents--her father in particular seemed to feel it the most, he is often uncomfortable while being interviewed. There are also interviews with interesting friends of the family that fill out the portrait.
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a girl who took dignity and honesty to a fatal conclusion
basedonberlin24 February 2013
I'm surprised at the low score and negative reviewing of this documentary. Perhaps its a pinch too long but i don't think so. It seems peoples gripe is that there's too much of the family and not enough about Francesca? Um, shes dead. All that we can do is hope her family and friends at the time will communicate, all of whom do.

I hadn't heard of Francesca before but somebody recommended it and i thought it was haunting and a beautifully rendered documentary.It is interesting to see the competitiveness within an artistic household, that artists are not above trying to outdo their own family members. It also goes a ways to see why Francesca herself was so obsessively driven for success and recognition. Touching portrait of youth, mostly.
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