© Piffl Medien GmbH

Max Beckmann - Departure
Germany/Austria 2013

Opening 6 Jun 2013

Directed by: Michael Trabitzsch
Writing credits: Michael Trabitzsch

The German expressionist painter Max Beckmann has been called a “giant of the 20th century” by the art dealer Richard Feigen and placed in the same league as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. This documentary film presents a fascinating view of his life and the demons that drove his creative genius. It is centered around several massive triptychs that Beckmann produced, which are on exhibit in such diverse museums as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, MOMA in New York, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum in Ludwigshafen. One of these entitled “Departure” is the source of the film’s title and depicts Beckmann’s ideas about exile and freedom.

For the uninformed viewer, as I was until I saw this movie, Beckmann’s painting appears shockingly brutal, bizarre and difficult to understand. But when you learn that Beckmann was a medic during World War I, that his art was declared “degenerate” by the Nazis, and that he was forced to flee Germany, first to Amsterdam and then to New York, it is easier to appreciate his art.

Beckmann was a burly man with enormous will power who refused to be forced into submission by the historic events of his time. He married a woman about 30 years younger than himself, “Quappi” (short for “Kaulquappe”, the German word for tadpole). Like many painters he seems to have always possessed a vital interest in women and sex, as his paintings testify. The themes of his paintings are also mythical and allegoric and address fundamental existential questions of life, death and suffering, which he felt can best be dealt with by creative efforts. “To create is to be saved” Beckmann claims.

The film includes interesting interpretations of some of Beckmann’s works by several well-known curators and provides an insightful introduction to expressionism. However, the tragic music that accompanies it seems to be in opposition to the forceful and undaunted character the movie depicts. (Pat Nevers)

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