Friday, June 6, 2014

Cutie and the Boxer (2013)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Documentary, Features - Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher

Cutie and the Boxer Poster
Photo Courtesy
I've watched a lot of documentaries following the stories of artists, and they almost always follow the same arc: a forgotten or unfairly overlooked artist is on the brink of a new exhibition that will finally earn him or her the recognition he or she has been unfairly denied.  I was previously unaware of Ushio Shinohara's work, and expected that I would spend the 82 minute running time learning that Mr. Shinohara had been unfairly ignored by the art world, but that the film would resolve nicely with a warm critical reception for the octogenarian artist.

Motorcycle Van Gogh by Ushio Shinohara
Photo Courtesy
Cutie and the Boxer did indeed start with a look at the struggles of Ushio Shinohara and end with an exhibition of his work, but there is a whole lot more to this film than the usual narrative.  Widespread acclaim has escaped Shinohara, but it is as much due to his own failings as it is the fickle nature of the art world.  Shinohara put his art above everything in his life, except perhaps alcohol.  His artistic talent has subsumed everything around him, including the considerable talent of his wife Noriko who has sacrificed her own ambitions because of her belief in Ushio's gifts.  Just as the art world is beginning to pay due recognition to Ushio's talents, Noriko dives into her own art, creating work found to be worth exhibiting by the art cognoscenti, but deemed inferior by Ushio.  Noriko loves Ushio and views it as her role to help him to make his work, and even as her anger grows at his dismissal of her talents, she still cannot fully confront Ushio.  Whether this is out of habit, her own insecurity, or her desire to protect Ushio is not clear, but director Zachary Heinzerling offers a remarkably compelling view of a marriage made of equal parts love and admiration.

Ushio Shinohara and Noriko Shinohara
Photo Courtesy
Ushio Shinohara has an active and vibrant method of making art that gave the film the second part of its title, a method that perfectly lends itself to film.  Instead of watching a painter slowly and deliberately consider a canvas, we watch a small, elderly man violently and joyfully punching a canvas covered in paint.  Ed Harris had a similar benefit in his film Pollock, but while Jackson Pollock was deliberate as to where he dropped his ink, Shinohara paints like a jazz musician, relying instead on his momentary instincts.  Yet even with the visual nature of the painting scenes, Heinzerling wisely minimized the number of scenes of Shinohara painting/boxing, instead focusing more on his and Noriko's reactions to their successes and failures, and their attempts to survive both.

Cutie and the Boxer is neither a traditional massive crowdpleaser nor a depressing record of a social injustice, and thus the film had little chance to receive the Best Documentary Oscar, an award that went to 20 Feet From Stardom.  Yet it is likely the most original and personal of the documentaries nominated in its year, and both a crowdpleaser and a record of social injustice in its own unique way.


No comments:

Post a Comment