Whiteley – a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

May 8, 2017 by Roz Tarszisz
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“Somewhere between struggle and rage there’s IT” said Brett Whiteley in this documentary charting his life, work and death.

It’s sobering to realise that the one-time enfant terrible of Australian’s art scene died almost 25 years ago.

Brett’s talent was recognised early when he won a travelling art scholarship and by 22 he was well on his way to fame.

The film uses a variety of techniques including Brett’s own voice, archival family movies,  documentary footage and scenes recreated with actors.  It is hard to know at times if it is the artist himself speaking or than of an actor but that doesn’t really matter.  The different effects give a sense of the times and an understanding of events that affected the artist.

It is impossible to discuss Brett without including his wife Wendy and her essential place in his life as both his muse and partner. She is frank about both their infidelities and drug taking and I admire both her candour and the fact she has survived the decadent years after decades alongside him.

After living in London and New York Brett and Wendy returned to Sydney. They both drew succour and peace from the Lavender Bay location where they lived on their return.  Brett for his many paintings of the area and, later, Wendy for the beautiful garden she created from an urban jungle.

I found myself wondering if I would like one of his harbour or beach paintings for its beauty – and not necessarily for the high prices they now bring.   I didn’t much fancy his giant installation The American Dream which he made whilst living in New York at the time of the Vietnam War protests.

In spite of his drug taking, he was a prodigious worker, willing to take risks in his work.

“There’s always a price to pay for everything” says Wendy.

This is enthralling viewing, a seamless portrait of a driven and talented artist and the things that engaged him.  One doesn’t have to like everything he produced, but his ability to capture something on paper with just a few brushstrokes is undeniable. Robert Hughes compared watching him painting was “like watching Nureyev dance”.

3.5/5 Rated M 94 mins Released May 11

Director James Bogle

Writers: James Bogle, Victor Gentile

Featuring Brett Whitely, Wendy Whiteley, Frannie Hopkirk


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