Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait Blu-ray Review

  • Starring: Julian Schnabel, Al Pacino, Willem Dafoe, Bono, Emmanuelle Seigner
  • Director: Pappi Corsicato
  • Format: AC-3, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: November 7, 2017
  • Run Time: 85 minutes

        Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait is fittingly named, diving into the personal life of the subject before defining his significance in the art world. Filled with intimate interviews with family members and friends, the documentary is far more concerned with the personality and approach to life that Schnabel takes than it is his actual work. Eventually the movie shows us his work, but rather than contextualize the significance of his paintings and films, it chooses to focus on the creative process at work.

        In this sense, A Private Portrait successfully lives up to its title, allowing us proximity in the quiet moments of Schnabel’s life. And even when exploring his art, the film quietly captures the work ethics that go into bringing his unique vision to life, but somehow Schnabel still remains something of a mystery. Not only does the film refuse to examine the artist’s life beyond the surface, we also are given little insight into the importance of his work. Instead, much of the movie feels like a memorial to the man rather than an honest examination. It has the feel of a movie made to please the subject, more fan adoration than thoughtful analysis.

        The one-dimensional approach to the biopic documentary may work for existing fans of the artist. They are less likely to need a more complete analysis of the work, and may not mind the film’s refusal to criticize anything about Schnabel’s life or art. Those unaware of his significance may find the brief description of his background intriguing, along with the unconventional approach to the creative process, but may also find the narrative occasionally slips into a kind of monotony in the constant stream of interviewees offering endless praise.

        The other surprising disappointment of the film is director Pappi Corsicato’s lack of visual excitement. Even when photographing some of Schnabel’s most dynamic art, the cinematography in the film feels remarkably uninspired. I kept waiting for the film to adopt even a fraction of Schnabel’s innovative style, but it remained drably generic. Even the structure of the film seems expected, plodding along with a formulaic approach that seems contradictory to the subject. In the end, the greatest accomplishment of the documentary is its ability to inspire audiences to seek out Schnabel’s work on their own, if only to obtain a better understanding of it than Corsicato is able to provide. What we are able to garner from Julian Schnabel is the passion that he has for his art, which remains a bit mysterious even in the examination of this personal approach to creativity.

        The Blu-ray offers little more than the occasionally interesting high definition shot of one of Schnabel’s paintings. There are no special features. A booklet insert includes a chapter index and a few production stills.

Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance:  4/10
Special Features: 0/10

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