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Gerard Richter Painting

A documentary captures the German expressionist painter at work

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There are two reasons why dramas about artists usually end up being not very good. First, creation occurs inside the artist's head. And second, watching the slow, meticulous process of painting or sculpting is boring. The fact that Corinna Belz's film is a documentary doesn't help and might even hurt: She can't juice things up with, say, nudity or explosions. And Richter, an affable fellow, is an abstractionist, so you wait in vain for recognizable figures to emerge. Belz takes us inside the famous German painter's studio, showing us how he makes the paintings that have made him the world's highest-priced (I hate to say "paid") living artist. 

Belz's straightforward film uses historic footage to fill in the past, often with Richter's old own words. We watch him prepare shows, and we hear others talk to and about him as they interpret his work and his vision. "The paintings have changed a lot," a visitor says to Richter as they examine some new work. He smiles and replies: "Yes, yes. They do what they want. I planned something totally different." If that's not scripted, it's at least clichéd. And so the paradigm reigns — in not-quite-living color.

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