Eleven years after “Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann,” was nominated for the short docu Oscar, director Steve Cantor delivers the long version. But while “What Remains” might have worked as part of a series on artists, it contains so little objectivity on the celebrated photographer that it will remain consigned to television, and the likely fascination of blinkered Mann fans.
Made at the height of the controversy over Mann’s allegedly eroticized portraits of her own children, “Blood Ties” decried such criticism while simultaneously showing Mann arraying one of her daughter/models in pearls, lipstick and an attitude of precocious sexuality. In short, Cantor’s perspective can’t really be trusted. “What Remains,” set largely on the Mann family’s Virginia farm, assumes the same hagiographic take on the artist, a savvy self-promoter. Central to the film is the creation of Mann’s “What Remains” series about death and bodily decay. When the show is canceled by New York’s Pace gallery, the movie assumes that the Philistines have taken over the Manhattan art world. What’s missing — a few objective assessments of the work — were not only necessary but obligatory.