Matta: The Eye of the Surrealist review

:. Director: Jane Crawford
:. Genre: Documentary
:. Running Time: 1:03
:. Year: 2004
:. Country: USA


I certainly won't pretend that I'm an expert in art, nor that I was very familiar work the work of Roberto Matta before going to see the documentary devoted to this Chilean artist. Born in 1911, Matta became a protégée of Andre Breton in the 30's, joining his surrealist group and befriending the likes of Salvador Dali & Marcel Duchamp. During World War II, he moved to New York and his style proved to be a major influence in the works of abstract painters such as Jackson Pollock. He however turned his back on that movement when he entered his sci-fi phase—if I can call it this—thus leaving fans and critics alike confused.

Matta: The Eye of the Surrealist is a bit problematic to review as it can be seen at different levels. While I certainly won't attempt to comment on the way the artist and his work are approached since I don't have the necessary background, at a cinematic level this documentary proves to be too dry and academic for its own good and despite its short running time it is at moments bordering on boredom; Writer/director Jane Crawford and producer Robert Fiore have a strong background in TV, including PBS, which might explain the formatted aspect of the feature.

There is however another dimension to this documentary which, despite its flaws, makes it a unique piece: Matta: the Eye of the Surrealist is a historic work—at least in the field of art—as the artist has always refused to be interviewed and filmed. This documentary, which intertwines a presentation of his career with actual footage of his working process and interviews, only exists because Crawford married his son and was able, after a few years, to convince him to be filmed. This familial proximity gives an almost intimate access to the Matta, both as a human being and as a painter in the creative act.

The highlight of this film is without a doubt when his daughter hangs a rectangular piece of glass in the woods; After discovering it, Matta starts painting it, making it a continuation of this bucolic scenery, before erasing everything to only paint a few words over it. We all of the sudden became the privileged witnesses of a master at work and only this makes Matta: The Eye of a Surrealist worth the show.

  Fred Thom

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