Alice Neel (2007)

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Released 21-Oct-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Theatrical Trailer-(2.40)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 83:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Andrew Neel

Madman Entertainment
Starring Alice Neel
Case Slip Case
RPI $34.95 Music Jonah Rapino

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    It's a long way from the heights (or depths) of bohemia to Law School, perhaps even further to Medical School. Yet this is where the sons of American portrait artist Alice Neel have ended up in spite of, or perhaps because of, their off-beat upbringing. This documentary, made by Neel's grandson, is as much about the sacrifices some make for their art, and the effect it has on their children, as it is about the artist herself.

Alice Neel was born in 1900 and died in 1984. She was an artist from her teenage years and worked tirelessly creating art for her active life. The sad but common story of Neel is that it was only towards the end of her career that she became recognized as a major force in American art and one of its foremost portrait painters. The images the film presents of the aged Alice Neel is of a grandmotherly woman often smiling benignly and rarely at her easel. There is no filmed record of her as a young, vivacious bohemian striving to bring her subjects to life.

As said, the film does tell two stories. The artists' sons feature prominently with mixed feelings as to the value of their upbringing and their mothers' devotion to her many partners despite tales of physical abuse. It also traces the sad story of her first children, born to a Cuban painter. One died in infancy and the other was taken back to Cuba after the couple separated. The "other family" share some bonds, perhaps trade abandonment stories, to give us the impression that Neel didn't mean to be a bad mother - she just wasn't very good at it.

Her life had its elements of tragedy which informed her paintings. She lived largely outside the New York art circles in Greenwich Village, instead living in Spanish Harlem, getting closer to the spirit of the people. What the film doesn't do, apparently for time reasons, is delve into her life as an active supporter, if not member, of the Communist Party.

Neel was justly famous, in the end, for the psychology she applied to her portraits. The subjects seem very aware, very vulnerable, and impossible to ignore. According to the film Neel was an avid devotee of psychology and constantly strived to get beneath the surface of her friends sometimes enraging them just to see what they behaved like when they were angry!

The film suffers from the usual problems of bringing painted art onto a TV screen. You can't help but feel her portraits would have a different effect if you were standing in the same room as the work. Still, another interesting addition to the Madmen Arthouse Films series.

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Transfer Quality


    Alice Neel, the film, is composed of a variety of sources. All comes together in a 1.78:1 transfer which is 16x9 enhanced.

The film is a combination of old photos, modern talking heads and some footage from the 70s and 80s of the ageing Neel. The source material has not been cleaned up for release and the image quality therefore varies greatly throughout. The video footage in particular shows its age.

The fleshtones in the talking heads segments are fine and the colours reasonably stable although it must be said that the director opts for lots of close-ups of the sons which means that we get the usual trade-off between immediacy and visual quality.

No person interested in the artist would be disappointed by the visual presentation of this DVD.

There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Alice Neel has an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack running at 224Kb/s.

Generally the sound is clear and the dialogue is easy to understand. The only problem comes in the form of Alice herself. Whether young or old, Alice speaks in a quavering voice which is a little difficult to hear and comprehend. It would have been nice to have these segments subtitled.

The music is by Jonah Rapino. It is effective and genuinely moving. He has done only a few soundtracks, concentrating instead on scoring silent films, but it is to be hoped he takes a further interest in soundtrack work.

There are no technical problems with the soundtrack. The voices appear to be in audio sync.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Theatrical Trailer

The theatrical trailer is the only extra. Brief.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

 This DVD is the same for all Regions.


   Another valuable entry in the Madman Entertainment Arthouse Series, the film Alice Neel provides a insight into the work of this formidable artist if not a penetrating insight into the artist herself. The documentarian perhaps isn't to blame - Neel appears to be somewhat of an inscrutable woman whose art tended to speak for itself.

An acceptable transfer will satisfy all art fans. The lack of extras is perhaps no surprise but it would have been nice to get some more independent explanation of her significance in contemporary American art.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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