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Frazetta: Painting With Fire
posted June 6, 2005

Creators: Lance Laspina
Publishing Info: DVD, Region 0, 92 Minutes
Ordering Numbers: 690445005229 (UPC)

The best moment in this solid documentary about the cartoonist turned fantasy oil painter comes early on when Frank Frazetta is reminiscing on the street with a few of his comics running mates (the Fleegal Gang) from 40-50 years earlier. One of them recalls that Frazetta's mom's house was a block or so away and Frazetta proclaims that she still lives there and off they go to mom's house. It's a great scene because it's so yet you learn a lot about Frazetta, both his relationship to his mom (who seems delighted to see him) and the healthy Frazetta genes.

Essentially a worshipful portrait of the extremely talented Frazetta, the movie does a fine job of building a picture of the painter as a cartooning prodigy, a force in comics (and makes a straightforward case for the importance of those comics), and then as a jaw-dropping commercial painter and source of inspiration for a generation of like-minded artists. There are about a dozen artists who make up a kind of chorus; the most thoughtful is William Stout and the funniest is director Ralph Bakshi. The walk through the career is leisurely yet understandable, and scores of his sumptuous artworks are on display.

If the documentary fails Frazetta, it's in two areas. First, a case for his artistic excellence is mostly asserted, and the smarter testimony is spread out rather than concentrated in one place. The most extended talk about the value of Frazetta's work comes hidden in defensive terms -- basically "If you don't like it when Frazetta does it, then you don't like it when famous painter X does it, either" which really don't convince or particularly flatter. What comes across is the tone. The best talk about the work comes from collector who express preferences for certain periods of Frazetta's work over the other; the documentary could not only have used more of that but something like that all in one place.

The other area might just be a personal preference of mine, but I was struck by footage of his museum opening and the reaction that fans had to Frazetta's work to the point they were supporting it by making pilgrimages and making, I think, financial contribution. It would have been nice to contrast those experience with the way Frazetta's fellow artists looked at him. Without that context, the amount of time spent at the museum were reasonably empty celebrations of generic greatness and impact, which we don't need convnicing of at that point in the film.