Victori: The Truth Just Can’t Be One Thing (Garden Thieves Pictures, NR)

victori_75I’m sure there’s a fascinating story to be found in Victori’s life, but director Michael Melamedoff doesn’t find it in this film.

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Victor Victori is a successful portrait painter whose subjects have included Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, and Ted Kennedy. Shortly after immigrating to the United States from South Korea, he painted a collective portrait of all the American presidents to date (1972) which remains in the White House collection. Now he wants to give portrait painting a rest and develop and promote a style of painting he calls “multiplism,” which features multiple views of the same subject in a single painting with the object of creating a “portrait in time.”

Victori: The Truth Just Can’t Be One Thing is built around one episode in that endeavor—the display of Victori’s work at Artexpo New York 2012. Artexpo is a sort of trade show in which artists rent booth space to exhibit their work, presumably in the hopes of making sales and attracting attention from agents, dealers, and other influential players in the art world. This event gives the film some forward momentum, while at the same time offering a little glimpse of the art world that may be unknown to people who normally see art only in museums. (Spoiler alert—a Thomas Kincade representative was there.)

I’m sure there’s a fascinating story to be found in Victori’s life, but director Michael Melamedoff doesn’t find it in this film. Instead, there’s a lot of jumbled bits of information (including what seems to be footage from an old TV show) and filler material, while many potentially interesting questions are not even raised. Such as: What was it like to study Western art in Korea? How did you go about building a successful portrait painting business in the United States? How do agents go about selecting the artists they want to represent? What’s it like selling paintings out of a mall shop, across the aisle from a dollar store?

One of Victori’s sons, Ed Victori, left his job as a risk management analyst to act as his father’s representative. He is more forthcoming with specific information than is his father, but appears entirely affectless on camera (he describes his desire to create a legacy for his father with all the emotion of someone reading a gas meter). Conducting interviews is a skill unto itself, and one that Melamedoff seems not to have mastered. The result is that at the end of the film, you still have no idea who Ed Victori is or what motivated him to leave a presumably lucrative career for one far more precarious.

The most interesting parts of Victori show the artist or someone else at work, because there’s something inherently interesting in watching things being made. In contrast, interviews in which the subject evades the question or appears to be BS-ing and is not called on it are a real snooze-fest. To take just one example, according to an interview with Victori in this film, he has no artistic influences, while one glance at his work suggests many, including Picasso. In addition, his skill as a draftsman and painter (at one point he brags about being able to quickly produce copies of the Mona Lisa, showing a pile of them as evidence) suggest formal art study, which matches with the information available in his Wikipedia bio. It’s all very well for a painter to want to create a narrative for himself as a self-taught genius, but I expect a documentary to do a little more work than simply taking its subject at his word (unless, of course, the documentary intends to be just a piece of publicity material for the artist, in which case I don’t know why anyone would bother to watch it in the first place). | Sarah Boslaugh

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