Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn's latest effort, "Golub: Late Works Are the Catastrophes," incorporates and updates their feted 1988 docu "Golub." Additional footage, shot shortly before his death, finds the artist in a more whimsically apocalyptic frame of mind.

Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn’s latest effort, “Golub: Late Works Are the Catastrophes,” incorporates and updates their feted 1988 docu “Golub.” The original, capturing the famed Gotham-based painter in his sixtysomething prime when he was at his most vigorously and politically engaged, remains intact. Additional footage, shot shortly before his death, finds the artist in a more whimsically apocalyptic frame of mind. His huge canvases of torturers and their victims seem newly relevant in light of Abu Ghraib, and this seminal portrait of the artist as a witness to his time, soon to be aired on PBS, merits wider distribution this time around.

Golub’s vast scale, physically demanding technique and amiable approachability made him the ideal candidate for a benchmark study of the artistic process, as the pic charts the creation of one of his 1980’s “Death Squad” tableaux from inception to exhibition.

Conscripting the film crew as paint scrapers and impromptu models, with Golub’s wife and fellow artist Nancy Spero providing on-site proportional critiques, the artist brings the viewer into his eclectic methodology as his human “monsters” take shape in all their brutal immediacy and disturbingly pleasing hues.

The current events centered nature of his subject-matter — room-high rows of mercenaries and death-dealers exerting their power over helpless prisoners — allowed filmmakers to cross-cut between newsreel-captured atrocities in Vietnam or Nicaragua and their larger-than-life painterly equivalents.

The provocative paintings also invited some revelatory reactions from interviewed gallery-goers as the exhibition moved from Washington, D.C., to Derry, Ireland, where fully armed soldiers, who look like they might have stepped from the canvases themselves, nervously patrol the quaint city streets.

Golub expounds on the “catastrophic” dissonance of his late works (the titular quote, scrawled across one of Golub’s late-period paintings, is from Theodor Adorno’s essay on Beethoven).

In one of docu’s more fascinating, self-reflective moments, Golub links his altered perspective to past quarrels with the filmmakers’ agitprop interpretation of his activism, recalling their proposed, thankfully scrapped, ending to the 1988 docu. The controversial ending was a cross-cutting between a painting of a group of blacks and wildly cheering African youths that virtually implied that Golub single-handedly inspired African independence.

Tech credits are pro.

Golub: Late Works Are the Catastrophes

Production

A Karemquin Films production. Produced by Jerry Blumenthal, Gordon Quinn. Executive producers, Jack Jaffe, Jenny Rohrer. Directed by Jerry Blumenthal, Gordon Quinn.

Crew

Camera (color, 16mm and DV-to-HD), Quinn, Eric Breitbart; editor, Blumenthal; music, Tom Sivak; sound, Rick Coken. Reviewed at New York Jewish Film Festival, Jan. 11, 2006. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Leon Golub, Nancy Spero.
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