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"He was the real thing, my father," says Robert De Niro - the actor we
all know and love - in the opening scene of Remembering the Artist:
Robert De Niro, Sr., a sweet and earnest short documentary on the life
of De Niro's own father. In just thirty-eight minutes, De Niro gives us
an overview of his father's career of being an artist, raising a
family, battling with depression and prostate cancer, and how De Niro
and his family are looking to give their patriarch the recognition they
believe he deserves.
It is widely known that artists such as drawers and painters go on to
achieve their most prevalent recognition when they are long gone or are
no longer making art. Consider Pablo Picasso or Andy Warhol, one artist
a revolutionary abstract painter, the other the leader of the pop-art
movement of the sixties, both men who went on to achieve strong global
recognition when they had passed on. Now consider somebody like Bill
Watterson, the author and illustrator of the famous Calvin and Hobbes
cartoon-strip, who is still alive but reclusive beyond belief,
routinely denying interviews, not drawing or illustrating anymore, and
keeping to himself in a very humble way. The reason why artists achieve
their greatest success when they are done producing art because of one
thing or another, I feel, is because of how absolute all their
remaining work is. Unless you're in the music industry, few industries
sees massive leaks of information, art, or content from people that
have died, and because of that, what you're left with when an artist
dies are presumably all their works. That way, you look through
everything they've done and try to form a consensus on their career
based on what they came out with, all the while knowing nothing else by
them will likely emerge.
De Niro begins by saying that, as a young child and a teenager, he
didn't really understand his dad's passions and didn't respect them
like he should have. Unfortunately, he didn't truly know how to
approach his dad's fascination for the arts until he passed, which is
when De Niro began to school himself in the artistic mediums of drawing
and painting. The De Niro family hailed from New York, which was a
rising area for contemporary art in the fifties and sixties thanks to
numerous European surrealist artists who fled their own countries at
the start of or during World War II. They flocked to New York, where
they shared their shockingly subversive styles with the culture of New
York, which was already considered a melting-pot of people.
De Niro's father began painting young, recognizing the voice he wanted
to be heard and the style he wanted to be shown at a very young age.
Unlike many artists, who struggle at certain points in their career
because of their frustrations or disillusionment with their current
styles, De Niro, Sr. never battled with personal dissatisfaction with
his work nor did he find his style to be something to abandon later on
in his life. He recognized what he wanted to paint and continued doing
it, never stopping to reconsider or publicly proclaiming any second
thoughts. Later in his life, he began to have a fascination with
actress Greta Garbo after viewing her film Anna Christie and took up
drawing her on a regular basis. De Niro tells the story of how, one
day, his father ran into Garbo in the elevator and was so close to
telling her about all that he did for her in terms of injecting her
into his works but couldn't muster the courage to utter a sound.
Towards the end of his career, De Niro, Sr. began battling more severe
demons, such as depression, prostate cancer, and the pop-art movement
in art, where pop culture and societal trademarks and staples began
finding ways into the artistic mediums, much to the dismay of De Niro,
Sr.. It seemed as if his dissatisfaction with the new wave of pop art
was because it appeared to be cheapening the medium of the arts, and
the fact that art, in general, is made up of certain movements and
waves - whether defined by ambitious new people or a group of scholars
and critics - it perfectly iterates the idea of "when one door closes,
another door opens." Combine that with money being tight and a family
to raise, De Niro Sr. was left behind in the art world. He eventually
died on his birthday, May 2, 1993, from prostate cancer; De Niro's
directorial debut A Bronx Tale - which I'd bill as one of my favorite
films from the 1990's decade - was dedicated in his memory.
Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. is clearly meant to be a
personal sendoff; a short documentary done out of respect to a man who
never seemed to get all he deserved when he was alive and clearly
commanded by his son, who didn't grow to appreciate his dad's work
until he was gone. The short is definitely something to admire and see,
as it shows numerous works by De Niro, Sr. up close and De Niro, Jr.
even reads extensively from his father's telling journal writings.
However, one gets the feeling that this short but sweet tribute and
sendoff may be a bit too little for someone who is claimed to be an
important person throughout the entire course of the short documentary.
NOTE: Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. will air throughout
the month of June 2014 on HBO.
Directed by: Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir.
Tags for Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. Full Movie
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