Review by Robert D. Patrick
Long-lost tapes are the documentary theme of 2015. Interviews, unearthed in some Indiana Jones-like warehouse after years of dormancy, is the hottest type of runway dress for directors this year. Someone is sending Sam Neil – complete with his Jurassic Park hat – down to dust for these fossils. First, Listen to me Marlon, comprised almost exclusively of the previously unheard private recordings of Marlon Brando, rears its lo-fi head. Now, only a few months later, we’re dealt more distorted tapes. And there’s still more hissing here than a viper pit. This time, we’re guest to the hiccups, tics, and eccentricities of Peggy Guggenheim of the lavishly affluent Guggenheim family. We listen to the late art historian and museum creator as she recalls everything from wily trysts to sad, interpersonal battles with her friends and family. Visually present to corroborate these colorful anecdotes are a litany of photographs and archival footage.
While it’s interesting to hear about the Guggenheim gallery, the discovery of shirked talent, and the amassed collection of invaluable art, this documentary presents the aforementioned information in such a tiresome way that it’s easy to feel like you’re being put in a sleeper hold by a WWE wrestler. Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s directorial style is that of a KPBS intern. There’s nothing arresting, interesting, or aesthetically pleasing about the manner in which this documentary is assembled. In fact, there were many moments when you can confuse Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict for a rushed PowerPoint presentation.
You don’t need the sly craftsmanship of Errol Morris or the animated nuance of Alex Gibney, but you do need to be warmer than a coroner’s table. How this documentary didn’t use the electric track “Guggenheim” by The Ting Tings is beyond me. So many missed opportunities. Here, Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary comes off as more of an advertisement for the Guggenheim museum than an extensive and objective biography. Still, there are some entertaining stories, shoehorned into the proceedings, that bring out the art maven’s wit and intellect. But they are simply too far and in between to recommend this documentary to anyone other than a Guggenheim completest. For being such a marvelously resourceful protector of art and culture, Peggy deserves something more comprehensive, extraordinary. And with the touch of a director that has an eye for light, sound, and feeling. Whether in the form of an HBO miniseries or the shape of a full-fledged biopic, there is a rich tale to be told. For now, though, the story is encased in resin, waiting to be freed.
Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is now playing at the Ken Cinema.