Friday, January 6, 2012

Maysles premiere: Vivian Ducat's ALL ME: THE LIFE & TIMES OF WINFRED REMBERT

TrustMovies doesn't follow fine art that much, even less fine folk art. So the new documentary titled ALL ME: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF WINFRED REMBERT came as a complete surprise to yours truly -- and an immensely pleasurable and moving one, at that. From the title, one could almost expect some campy and funny ego trip, but the "all me" takes on depth and feeling, once you understand where it is coming from -- and why. Drawing on his own memories and those of his forebears, Winfred Rembert (not Winifred: our artist is a man) produces autobiographical paintings in an unusual medium (colored dye on leather!) that depict in primitive, folksy fashion the daily existence of African Americans in the segregated American south of the century past.

The film's director, Vivian Ducat (shown at left), is a native New Yorker who began her film career in London. She's new to me (and probably to you) but she has collected and then packed into her 75-minute movie memories, talking heads, archival photos and present-day doings that form a remarkable story of a memorable artist and man. In our first view of Winfred (below, left), the fellow looks like a single-toothed -- no, we see a bit later that there are two teeth, then even more -- heavy-set man with a sense of humor, big talent and a good memory. We travel from his home town in Cuthbert, Georgia, to New Haven, Connecticut, and back again, and we soon meet his wife Patsy (below, right), as well as a daughter and a son.  We also begin meeting the artist's many fans who include museum directors, art gallery mavens and just-plain collectors.

Mr Rembert's life was probably not all that different from so many other blacks in America's south -- except that he could draw. His style, which appears to be slowly changing and growing over the decades, combines naïveté, primitivism, color, beauty and authenticity. Given his unusual medium, the result is a heady, intriguing mix that's easy on the eye while engaging the mind.

The stories that Wnfred has to tell -- often horrible, ugly and sad -- are told with such immediacy and feeling, as well as an ever-present sense of humor that they never fail to engage. One such shows us the lynchings that make up a kind of triptych of art of which the artist explains that he and the other children did not actually see the ropes placed around the necks of the lynched men or the hangings themselves; the children were brought in only when the rope was removed from the bodies and the burials proceeded.

This is a man who protested along with Martin Luther King, worked on a chain gang (which he says was the absolute worst time of his life -- and where the title of the film actually comes from), and is now seen addressing a class of current high schoolers. This particular scene is especially moving because it is so immediate and "felt," bringing these kids of today in touch with things that they probably would rather not know, but need to nonetheless.

Of the art show in his home town of Cuthbert, Rembert notes that nothing -- not shows at Yale University Art Gallery, in New York and elsewhere -- compares to coming back to Georgia. And you believe him! You'll wonder what those Wilson Brothers, who blithely told Rembert's mother that her son would never amount to anything, would have to say now. See this movie and weep, laugh, rejoice.

All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert, a Paladin release, will be shown one time only at the Maysles Cinema, this coming Wednesday, January 11, at 7:30 -- with a special reception to begin at 6:30 that evening. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with both the film's director and the artist himself.  I cannot believe that this fine piece of work, which won the Silver Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival, will not garner a longer and larger release, ending up eventually on television or cable.  It will introduce you to an artist and man you'll be so pleased to have met and learned about. It is simply too good to miss.


Rick Allen said...

Smart review of a really special film. Many thanks.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Rick. (It turns out that the doc did not win Best Documentary prize at the Chicago Film Fest but the Silver Plaque instead. So I have corrected that in the post, and I hope that the IMDB will correct its web site, as well.) I also hope many more people feel the way you and I apparently do about this film.