Art History at the Movies: Georgia O’Keeffe

They should have called this movie Georgia and Alfred because this whole movie revolves around the tumultuous relationship between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz.  Her name in the title implies that the film will devote the entire plot to her whole life.

Interested in the movie?  Click on this cover to buy it.

On the other hand, the story makes for a lovely film full of great acting and sumptuous beauty.  Joan Allen portrays O’Keeffe as a wonderfully complicated woman who juggled her dual role as artist and muse to Stieglitz. Furthermore, Allen portrays the painter as both a resolute and blunt woman with her own autonomy versus someone who balks at her paintings and portraits receiving audiences and having critics dissect and pick her apart.  One sequence had a row of critics who give sexually charged interpretations of her paintings of flowers.  Jeremy Irons gives Stieglitz a complex portrayal.  He acts as both nurturer and shameless promoter of O’Keeffe’s talent.  This shamelessness also contributes to the clueless way he treats her.  Just amazing how he takes a mistress and then acts surprised when she has an affair of her own.  And then complains to his mistress that O’Keeffe stays away from him.  This film does walk a fine line between giving a nuanced portrayal and outright depicting him as a monster.  Even the New York scenes with him gives off this cold and unpleasant environment while the Taos, New Mexico scenes offer a colorful and robust world, thus giving O’Keeffe the inspiration to create more paintings.

I did have some problems with this film.  I thought the depictions of Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer and the Hopi people felt very problematic.  In fact, the film almost steered them into the Noble Savage stereotype.  On Toomer, the movie shows him and Georgia having an affair and the actor brings no real depth to the character.  This makes me sad that the movie reduced a writer into nothing more than an exotic plot device existing only to give O’Keeffe a good time and make her White husband (Stieglitz) feel insecure.  While they do mention his education, Toomer still felt underdeveloped as a character.  If you took him out of the movie, it would not have changed the film all that much.

ETA: I decided to do some rewrites.

ETA: I decided to do more rewrites and add links you should know about.

ETA:  Added more links.

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