Playing at the Cable Car Cinema: Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

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Perhaps you’re acquainted with Blog’s column, This Week at the Avon. Meet the Avon’s sulky, redheaded step-sister: the hip, closer-to-sea-level competitor, Cable Car Cinema and Cafe. Cable Car, located on seabreezy South Main Street, has recently been deemed “Best Art House Cinema in New England” by Yankee Magazine.

Last we spoke about the Cable Car, the year was 2014 and the theatre had extended Finding Vivian Maier’s run on their silver screen. This week, Cable Car has resurrected Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict in response to the wildly popular screening on opening night of the First Annual Providence Art & Design Film Festival, hosted by the RISD Museum. (As noted in Harper’s Bazaar, Guggenheim gave the RISD Museum one of her first Pollock drip paintings and one of her Jéan Helions, too.)

The film is directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who gave us the exceptional movie The Eye Has To Travel about her grandmother-in-law, legendary Vogue editrix Diana Vreeland. (My grandfather recently watched the Vreeland documentary on Netflix and revered the “entertaining and informative” film for its “fantastic editing job.” Though our opinions may vary when discussing the filmic merits of Napoleon Dynamite, we both recommend that you add The Eye Has To Travel to your queue.) With her second film Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, Lisa I. Vreeland has established that powerful women with cultural capital are her beat.

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Magic Lantern by Jackson Pollock in the RISD Museum’s Collection (Gift of Mrs. Peggy Guggenheim)

Art Addict can be your crash course in early to midcentury European art, led by Guggenheim as she social-climbs her way through Dadaists, Surrealists, Modernists, and Abstract Expressionists. Lauded as the collector who funded Jackson Pollock’s lifestyle, Peggy Guggenheim as trailblazing gallerist and entrepreneur takes the reins of this hour-and-a-half-long feature. The film succeeds most when portraying Guggenheim’s complicated relationship with feminism as a sexually liberated woman in an era when this was condemned. Guggenheim speaks candidly about the interweaving of her romantic and professional lives, and writes openly about her seven abortions in her memoir Out of This Century, but doesn’t seem to hesitate when her biographer asks “which men formed” her.

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The Chimney Sweep by Jean Hélion in the RISD Museum’s Collection (Gift of Mrs. Peggy Guggenheim)

Lisa Immordino Vreeland optioned Jacqueline Bograd Weld’s biography, Peggy: The Wayward Guggenheim, for the purposes of developing the film, and quickly gained access to Weld’s extensive archives. After rummaging through Weld’s basement, Vreeland eventually discovered a shoebox housing the never-before-heard tapes of Weld’s interviews with Guggenheim. These tapes function as the backbone of the film: they let Peggy’s voice lead us through her lifetime.

A montage of photographs and documents dominate the film’s visuals, culminating in a movie that feels like part-art history lecture slideshow, part-documentary, part-podcast. Along from slides of paintings collected by Guggenheim, the film leans on a treasure trove of invitations to openings at Peggy’s two galleries, Guggenheim Jeune in London and Art of This Century in New York, which will appeal to the graphic design enthusiast. The onslaught of stills becomes monotonous after a while, and makes you wonder if maybe another medium would have been more appropriate for this audio-heavy project.

I saw the movie with a friend who deemed it an “elevated PBS special.” Good news for gossipy types: the film reads like a Hollywood Babylon of the art world as Peggy walks us through her various trysts with artists and writers like Max Ernst and Samuel Beckett. The documentary takes a darker turn when Peggy opens up about her bloodline’s tragedies, starting with her father who did not survive the Titanic’s shipwreck. 

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Peppered with insights from the art world glitterati (Marina Abramović, Simon de Pury, Larry Gagosian, Hans Ulrich Obrist, etc), I highly recommend this movie for you if you a) regret not registering for a History of Art and Architecture class this semester and b) miss the sensation of looking at slides in a dark room. You can catch this flick for $8.50 at the Cable Car before skipping town for Thanksgiving. (Cinema perks, as always, include free refills of popcorn and luxurious couch seating.)

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Images via, via, via, via, and via Edith Young. 

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