The documentary genre has been bursting into bloom with life of the artist films renovating the histories of the famous and infamous, as well as the often more compelling narratives finally giving the criminally overlooked their place in the sun. This is especially satisfying when, as is the case here, the subject is a pioneering woman. At 88 years-old, Audrey Flack holds a unique place in American art history. Feminist, mother, painter, sculptor and teacher, Audrey’s often controversial 40-year career evolved from abstract expressionism in the 1950s to photorealism in the 1970s — and at every point she was very often the only woman in the room. The woman-helmed production led by director Deborah Shaffer does an expert job intertwining the threads of her personal and professional lives, evoking the dissonance of her experience as she was experiencing serious success in her career and struggling with parenting a special needs child at home. And there’s a love story in there, too.
One of the most dramatic segments of the film’s narrative arc is that it first takes us through a period in which Flack stopped painting at the height of her success, shuttered the studio for two years, and re-emerged as a sculptor. Her long second act includes the prolific production of often monumental sculptural works — but we meet her just at the point at which she returns to large-scale painting after some 30 years. Through it all, we meet in the same woman a hard-core student of art history with a tireless mind for visual problem solving, technical innovation, and ambition, who is also a charming, down to earth and feisty story-teller that makes us feel like she’s speaking just to us. Opens Friday, November 13 at Laemmle virtual cinema; audreyflackfilm.com.