40 Years in the Making, The Painter Sam Francis


The name in the title belongs to the California-born artist who, set up in Saint-Germain-des-Prés during the 1950s, was at the vanguard of introducing and selling American abstract expressionism to a European audience. This biography doc, from Fluxus associate and all-purpose avant-garde hanger-about Jeffrey Perkins, was 40 years in the making, built on the foundation of a 1968 shoot of Sam Francis at work, pulled along by his brushstrokes, stopping to flagellate an in-progress canvas. For aficionados, the evidently rare footage of Francis squatting on hairy thighs, scampering ahead to stay intuitive before intellectual, will justify the film. But if we learn something of the painter’s “from-the-solar-plexus” process here (“It’s so easy!”), the portrait of Francis—from a ’73 sit-down interview with the sapped and wary artist, none too charismatic in his reticence, and postmortem interviews with family and colleagues—doesn’t articulate enough to explain the film’s epic gestation period. Only an opaque outline of the subject comes through—monomaniacally productive through illness, five times married, no candidate for Father of the Year—and Francis finally impresses, mostly, through his masquerade of Grand Artist sartorial effects, a big Salon des Refusés mustache, and the mien of a feudal Japanese Zen painter.