‘Faces Places’ with Agnès Varda and JR

From high art in the gallery (my last post) to street art, here catching the last chance for a Paris in July entry, I’m presenting the fascinating documentary, a road movie of making art in the open milieu of villages and among the working populace. Faces Places (2017) is an account of the venerable auteur of the Nouvelle Vague (The French New Wave: Goddard, Truffaut…) Agnès Varda (1928-2019), then at 89, going on a road trip with photographer and artist JR to scout for ordinary people to photograph in various obscure locales in France.

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Their larger than life photo prints are then pasted onto buildings or open places for everyone to view, evoking the shared joy of living, working, and the collective memory of a meaningful past. Like this one with photos of pioneer miners pasted on a row of dilapidated homes slated for demolition in a miners’ community. The one remaining homeowner who refused to vacate her house was moved to tears upon seeing the completion of the project.

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Art undefined and unconfined, once pasted onto these surfaces, JR’s black-and-white photographic images convert the whole building or structure into an art form. The world is his canvas. Unlike Banksy, JR is transparent with his creative process, and lets the public view his work in progress. A TED Prize winner (2011), his large-scale, participatory art projects are installed all over the world, albeit sometimes illegally according to local laws, but the people welcomed him.

At age 89, Agnès Varda became the oldest nominee in Oscar history when Faces Places was nominated for Best Documentary for the 2018 Academy Awards. It’s now on DVD and Blu-ray. Her numerous older works may not be accessible for us so readily. Check your streaming or on demand services. I was able to watch two of her excellent films Vagabond (1985) and Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962, click on link to my review). Don’t miss this short clip on IMDb “Agnès Varda in Memoriam”.

The soul-stirring original music by Matthieu Chedid complement the meaningful duo collaboration. At the beginning, JR talks with Varda to organize the making of their joint project. We see them exchange the following dialogues:

AV:  What I like was meeting amazing people by chance.

JR:  So you want to carry on that way, with no plan or itinerary?

AV:  Yes. Chance has always been my best assistant.

JR:  Do you think chance will work for both of us?

AV:  Maybe.

From the film, we can see chance had worked for both of them marvellously.


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~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples




Paris in July is hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea

PIJ2019 Tamara

Other Paris in July 2019 Posts on Ripples:

Pictures at an Exhibition 

‘Coco Before Chanel’ directed by Anne Fontaine

‘Gemma Bovery’ to cool your summer day

‘A Sunday in the Country’ is an Impressionist Cinematic Painting

San Francisco International Film Festival offers an eclectic selection

The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM) will take place April 10-23, 2019. The longest running Film Festival in the United States, this is the 62nd edition of their annual celebration of films from all over the world.

SFFILM 2019 will showcase 163 works of various forms, from narrative features to documentaries, shorts to family-friendly animations, including 12 world premieres and 5 North American premieres. 52 countries are represented in 36 languages. Among SFFILM 2019 selections are 72 works directed or co-directed by women. This year’s Special Tribute will honor Laura Dern, Laura Linney, Claire Denis, and John C. Reilly.

The Special Interests Categories range from arts, design and architecture to social, legal, and environmental issues, to food, philosophy, crime, and science … just to name a few. Click Here to view their various Sections and Spotlights.

Here are two features I have previewed and highly recommend:

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (Marquee Presentations)

Toni Morrison, subject of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM, playing at the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival, April 10-23, 2019. Courtesy of SFFILM.

An inspiring biopic piecing together a multi-faceted life brimming with fearless convictions. At 87, Toni Morrison’s voice is intimate, her words far-reaching. Photos and footages tell not just the life story of a writer but that of America. She writes for all, transcending racial barriers, impacting readers globally. Angela Davis, Hilton Als, Fran Lebowitz, Oprah Winfrey and others lend their voices to present a portrait of the Nobel laureate with a gentle, personal touch.


Ramen Shop directed by Eric Khoo (Global Visions Program)


Ramen-Shop-Still 1
A scene from Eric Khoo’s RAMEN SHOP, playing at the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival, April 10-23, 2019. Courtesy of SFFILM.


Acclaimed Singaporean director Eric Khoo’s latest feature is not your ordinary foodie flick. A young Japanese ramen chef goes on a root-searching journey to Singapore to find his mother’s family and seek reconciliation with his grandmother who has long estranged him. Painful WWII memory lodged indelibly in the older generation for Grandfather died in Japanese hands. A fusion of Japanese ramen and Singapore’s signature pork rib soup is the melting agent in Khoo’s moving concoction.



Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am will be screened April 14th and 20th, Ramen Shop April 12th and 14th. For details of SFFILM 2019 programs, CLICK HERE .

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Update: “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 27, 2011.

If you haven’t seen a Banksy signature piece in any urban centres, now you can watch a Banksy film, Exit Through The Gift Shop, ‘directed’ by the elusive street artist himself, and legitimately shown in theatres near you. And a big spoiler: no, you don’t get to see his face… only a dark silhouette inside a hoodie, voice distorted… or, maybe that’s not even Banksy himself.

The infamous and secretive graffiti artist has been claimed by some as the instigator of the ‘street art movement’.  Believed to be based in Bristol, England, Banksy has made his presence known by spray painting his articulately constructed stencilled work on walls in the most unlikely places of the world.  The following one is found on the high, separating wall in the West Bank:

The May 10 issue of TIME magazine has included Banksy in the poll of 100 Most Influential People In The World.  His silent graffiti are clear political and social statements, thought-provoking messages imbued with whimsical and imaginary images.  His works have been auctioned off at Sotheby’s, including the murdered telephone booth on a London street.  Sign of the time: the triumph of the cell phone.

At the time of the film’s premiere screening earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Banksy made his presence known by contributing to the city scene with his notorious images.  Here’s one of them:


The documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, ironically, is more about the filmmaker wannabe Thierry Guetta “Terry” who started off filming street artists from Paris, London, and back to his home city L.A.  His life came to a drastic turn as he, by chance, was introduced to the underground Banksy, and started tagging along, capturing Banksy’s creative process in his camcorder.

What turned him around was Banksy’s advice that he wouldn’t be a good filmmaker.  That was motivation enough for Terry, who re-directed his energy towards his new ambition: to be a street artist himself.  So the film is exactly that, the first part is the exhilarating depiction of the colorful underground world of street artists from Europe to LA, hunt down and tagged along by Terry the videotaping enthusiast.  But the film dims into a lesser light when the latter half shifts to focus on Terry himself, who, without much self-discernment, churned out obviously second-rate works which prompted Banksy to declare never to help anyone produce a doc about street art again.  We learn that as the end credits roll.

Unlike the anonymous and elusive Banksy, Terry is a self-promoting opportunist, calling himself Mr. Brainwash, his productions MBW. He hired staff to help him produce works of pop fusions, tacky, Kinko re-mixes of Warhol reproductions, while at the same time, reaping millions of dollars from their sales.

And with that Banksy cleverly throws out to us the obvious questions: What is art, or maybe, When is art, art?  And, Who can be an artist?

As I watched the first part about these highly skilled and agile urban legends, reminiscence of none other than Phillippe Petit of Man On Wire, I was entertained and amazed at the artistic skills and versatility involved. But of course, these are less dangerous, more down-to-earth feats, nevertheless the spirit of Phillippe Petit lingers.  As fellow artist Shepard Fairey writes in TIME magazine about Banksy:

He doesn’t ignore boundaries; he crosses them to prove their irrelevance.

So naturally, the film leads us to that menacing debate: Street art or vandalism?  Here’s Banksy’s own take on this issue, quoted in LA Weekly:

“I’m not so interested in convincing people in the art world that what I do is ‘art,’ ” Banksy says. “I’m more bothered about convincing people in the graffiti community that what I do is really vandalism.”

… mmm interesting thought… but then again, as elusive as his persona.

Exit Through The Gift Shop tags along this subheading: “The World’s First Street Art Disaster Movie”.  The disaster apparently refers to the public’s indiscriminate taste for Terry’s MBW works.  However, it probes further into a deeper layer, the distinction between ‘good’ art and ‘bad’ ones. I like Shepard Fairey’s take on the Mr. Brainwash phenomenon:

“Don’t be annoyed by him. Make him irrelevant, make something better.”

If we can all agree on what is ‘better’.  Take for example, among Banksy’s works, I like this one the best… No, it doesn’t reflect Arti’s own personal habit.  It appeared on a Camden street, and later met the fate of being cleaned up by order of the Camden City Council:


‘Directed’ by Banksy himself, the doc is narrated by Rhys Ifans, an award-winning British actor (Notting Hill‘s Spike).  It’s entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking.  This is the closest to an original Banksy.

~~~ Ripples


With the film’s premiere showing in Toronto, guess Banksy has also made his debut on the walls there:


Thanks to a reader from England, I was given the link to this, a must-see:



Photo Sources:

Banksy on West Bank Wall: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4748063.stm

Banksy at Sundance, Park City, Utah: http://festival.sundance.org/2010/blog/entry/banksys_missive/

Murdered Telephone Booth: http://www.laweekly.com/2010-04-08/art-books/banksy-revealed/2

Maid Sweeps Under: Wikipedia Commons



My Kid Could Paint That

If you type in “Marla Olmstead” in your Google search, 37 pages of information will come up. From these pages, you’ll know that she is a painter, born in Binghamton, New York. Her paintings have been compared to Wassily Kandinsky (the pioneer of modern art) and Jackson Pollock (the legendary drip artist). You’ll also learn that her works have been sold for tens of thousands of dollars. And soon enough, you’ll learn that Marla Olmstead is 7 years-old.

Nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, My Kid Could Paint That is director Amir Bar-Lev’s quest to find out the true story behind this little girl who has been hailed as a “pint-size Picasso”. In the film, we see her using professional paintbrushes and other art accessories to work on canvases over 5 feet tall.

The first half of the documentary we see Marla Olmstead having her first showing in a NY Gallery, she was only 4 then. Her paintings sold like hot cakes, with a waiting list of more than 200 buyers, ready to snatch up anything she would produce. No need to worry about getting work for the next few years. As a 4 year-old, Marla had already earned more than $300,000, which her parents said had been put aside in a college fund. (Would she be going to college?)

Marla Olmstead Marla’s Burning Blue Ball

Then came the bombshell half way into the film. In a February, 2005, CBS’s 60 Minutes reporting, Marla and her parents were painted in a very different light. In the program, Charlie Rose interviewed Ellen Winner, a psychologist who has studied gifted children and specializes in visual arts. She saw a video tape taken by a hidden camera in the home of the Olmstead’s, unobtrusively recording Marla at work. What she suspected was a coach behind the child, someone prodding her on, even directing her moves. After the airing of the CBS program, a once beautiful art prodigy was overnight turned into an ordinary child with manipulative parents in the background steering her purposefully towards financial gain.

Sales began to drop, and warm praises turned into damning accusations. Loving parents are now seen as manipulative frauds. The Olmsteads have since made their own DVD to disprove the detrimental claims. You can see some of the clips showing Marla painting at home in the website http://www.marlaolmstead.com/

Director Amir Bar-Lev has successfully captured the emotional reactions Marla’s parents had in response to the 60 Minutes interview, and their attempt to defend their name in denying their invovlement in Marla’s artistic productions. Interestingly, the film does not take a stand. Rather, it has raised more questions than provided answers:

For those of us who are parents, what are our motives in raising our children? How can we decide what’s ‘best’ for them? How much influence should we or do we have over our children’s development? Where is the line between nature and nurture, pleasure and porfit? What’s more, what is art anyway? And the definition of modern art? Or, talent, for that matter? Does talent has to be associated with a monetary value or fame before it can be recognized?

Every one would have very different view of this story, and his/her own personal set of queries. I went to see this movie with a painter friend of mine. Not surprisingly, as we came out of the theatre, we had very different reactions to the film. Well one question I know I have, and it’s for my mom. Mom, if you’re reading…why wasn’t I given the big canvases and professional paintbrushes and those huge tubes of paints when I was a kid? How come I only got pencil crayons?

~~~3 Ripples