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Laura Blum

Laura is a festival correspondent covering films and the festival circuit for She also publishes on Thalo



Tribeca Spotlight: Director Pappi Corsicato Reveals "Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait"

“Everyone knows about his pajamas, his lifestyle, his art, his movies, but not many people know about his sensitivity and vulnerability,” Italian director Pappi Corsicato recently told me. As you may have guessed, unless you’ve missed four decades of art world chatter, the public persona he was referencing is the painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. Corsicato’s aperçu followed our query about the title of his new documentary, “Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait”: How has the public view of the celebrity artist been off? What would a more intimate consideration reveal, and why was Corsicato moved to take on this project?

“Julian is someone who has led an emblematic life,” he offered in accented, if fluent English. “Here’s a kid from a humble family who wanted to be an artist and he succeeded. He did something that was important for American culture, for the international movie scene. My idea was to make a movie from my point of view, not a biography told in a technical, didactic way.”

The Naples-born filmmaker is best known for his campy romps LiberaThe Seed of Discord and noir satire Another Woman's Face – showing his roots as Pedro Almodóvar’s assistant – and for his stage operas Carmen and The Human Voice. No such stylization pops up in Julian Schnabel, though the subject’s attraction to color, knack for eccentricity and sheer physicality jibe with the flamboyant sensibility of Corsicato’s fiction films.

The doc, which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, combines newly shot verité footage with Schnabel’s personal trove of home movies and stills. Early on we see the artist slogging a vast expanse with a paint-soaked rag, his whole hulking body choreographing the gesture. The same muscularity powers his brushed works and assembled plate paintings.

Interwoven with such takes are interviews with friends, colleagues and family members who help trace Schnabel’s personal life and career. Al Pacino recalls him reciting lines from The Godfather; collector Peter Brant notes that his paintings “are records on canvas of his visual life experience”; and gallerist Mary Boone credits him with changing “the climate, the acceptability of painting” after the conceptual art-inclined 70s. Other commentators include Jeff Koons, Laurie Anderson, Willem Dafoe, Emmanuelle Seigner, former spouses Jacqueline and Olatz and children Lola, Stella, Vito, Cy and Olmo.

How does one film glimpse Schnabel’s outsized passions and exertions up close? That’s Corsicato’s challenge, and it makes for lively viewing -- and discussing -- even if it can’t be resolved. Full interview here:

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