Three artist documentaries to watch this weekend

As the cold weather settles into your bones, settle in with these newfound documentaries about or by women who unlocked their voice and never apologized for it–despite the bouts of crippling creative doubt.

“Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” on Netflix

“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self respect springs.” Joan Bad Bitch Didion

I’m obsessed with Joan Didion’s essays, and this documentary by her nephew Griffin Dunne explores her work, heartache and cult-like following, of which I am a book-carrying member. It debuted on Netflix streaming last week.

“Eva Hesse” on Netflix

“Ennead” by Eva Hesse, 1966. Acrylic, papier-mâché, plastic, plywood, and string.
Untitled by Eva Hesse, 1969-1970. Latex, rope, string and wire.
Eva, painting.

With a life cut short by brain cancer at 34, Eva Hesse’s mark on the postwar art world was nothing short of miraculous. Her abstract and humanistic paintings and sculptures are still relevant today, as is her wise-beyond-its-years self-mastery in a male dominated field rife with land mines. I was particularly stunned at her Jewish family’s devastating story of their escape from Germany when she was just a child–and the effect this traumatizing experience had on the rest of her life. This documentary further proves her rightful place in art and American history.

“Streetwise” by Mary Ellen Mark on YouTube

A friend of mine recently posted this find on Facebook. I knew the name Mary Ellen Mark sounded familiar, and of course, she’s the photographer who took that famously jarring black and white photo of the little girl smoking in a kiddie pool. The rest of Mary Ellen’s work is just like that — difficult to see, devastating, beautiful, a snapshot of the poor, forgotten and frustrating in a modern age. This 1988 documentary by Mary Ellen (soundtrack by Tom Waits!) follows homeless foster kids, teenagers and runaways who live on the streets. Their lives are crushingly sad, but Mary Ellen deftly balanced keeping their dignity and struggle for self worth and pride, ever present. Even as they sold drugs, turned tricks as teens and fought to stay alive. Innocence corrupted. Adult cruelty. Life captured. Violence, cycling. Heavy.


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