A Woman Like That
Published: April 13, 2011
A Woman Like That
Directed by Ellen Weissbrod
At the Walters Art Museum April 14 at 6 p.m., with a director Q&A following the screening.
If you take nothing else away from filmmaker Ellen Weissbrod’s ingenious intermingling of her own story with a portrait of a frequently overlooked woman artist, take this: Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi was pretty much a force of nature. She revisualized how women were represented and perceived in paintings. She re-evaluated how the female form should look in painting. And she refused not to be accepted as a professional artist—all during the early half of the 17th century.
The thing is, there’s much more to take from A Woman Like That than merely Gentileschi’s story, which Weissbrod tells in a somewhat circuitous route, sneaking a camera into a Gentileschi retrospective at an American museum and then personally retracing the artist’s steps in Italy, visiting museums, collectors, and scholars with her camera in tow. Woman also offers the story of Weissbrod, who became so inspired by Gentileschi—and frustrated by her own creative compromises come midlife—to undertake this documentary, turning to the strength and determination she saw in Gentileschi to power her own creative pursuit. The result is a fascinating look at how much and how little the status of female artists has changed in, well, 400 years: how certain stories and ideas are neglected to be included in art historical discussions, how monetary value gets assigned to artworks depending on the gender of the artist, and how these overlooked stories can be debunked and more assiduously explored merely by taking the time to examine the works themselves.
Included in the movie is a wonderful consideration of an already powerful Gentileschi work: “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” a recognizable Baroque subject matter and one already depicted by Caravaggio. (The Walters has its own versions, Trophime Bigot’s “Judith Cutting Off the Head of Holofernes” and Elisabetta Sirani’s “Judith With the Head of Holofernes.”) It’s a powerful image in and of itself—a woman decapitating the leader of an invading army to save her people—but Weissbrod interviews women about the choices Gentileschi makes in her depiction—how Judith stands, the look on her face, the very angle of her sword and body as she slices through his neck—that articulate a radically different version of the story than male artists. One interviewed woman says the Gentileschi version makes her think of Julia Child tackling the Thanksgiving turkey—which captures everything you need to know about how profoundly casually Weissbrod’s A Woman Like That brings art history to life.
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