Unrated (nothing objectionable); 97 min.
Gerhard Richter Painting is exactly what its title promises, a documentary portrait of the famed German painter working on a recent series of abstract pieces. The movie isn't exactly as tedious as watching paint dry, but the insights are mostly few and far between.
A famously taciturn artist who doesn't like to explain the meanings of what's up there on the canvas, Richter instead just keeps painting scrapes and swirls across a large canvas. And unlike, say, Martin Scorsese, whose Life Lessons short from New York Stories also featured long stretches of painting, all of it mesmerizing, director Corinna Belz doesn't have the imagination to bring these sequences to visual life.
What makes the movie worthwhile, however, is the access Belz obtained. She takes us deep inside the artist's studio in Cologne, Germany, then follows him through the city on his regular rounds. Attended to by two devoted assistants, Richter (now 80, but in his late 70s when the film was shot) seems to be seeking out a faster, freer way of painting. Along the way, Belz offers the usual bits of historical footage to try to put Richter in context.
But there's only so far Belz can go before she runs into the brick wall of Richter's emotional elusiveness. Conjuring up an insightful documentary about a challenging, mysterious artist isn't impossible -- just check out Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, airing this month on HBO, an unexpectedly moving celebration of a performance artist whom, at least until recently, no one seemed to get.
But you need a subject willing to give you something, to talk openly about personal experiences and possible meanings, and Richter to the end holds Belz at arm's length. The result is for art-junkies only.
Exclusive: Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
-- Christopher Kelly