A Brett Whiteley Documentary Still Needs To Be Made

…‘Cause the one that just came out ain’t gonna cut it.

Whoever edited the trailer together for Whiteley deserves an Academy Award. Somehow, they managed to make the new documentary on one of Australia’s most revered artists, Brett Whiteley, look like a stirring masterpiece set to ignite the creative flame in us all. But in reality, the trailer spoils the best 90 seconds-worth of the entire film and sets the scene for a story that remains untold.

Okay, bit harsh. There are moments of brilliance throughout, but that’s mostly due to Whitely being, well, Whiteley. Unfortunately he cameos in his own life story only sporadically, even though archival footage of the subject of a documentary is kind of paramount to successfully telling it. Unfortunately, for director James Bogle, the pull to fill the gaping Brett Whiteley doc-hole may have been stronger than the need to find enough relevant footage of Brett Whiteley to actually fill it. Instead, the first half of the film is told through cheesy re-enactments of a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed Whiteley played by an actor that may bear a slight resemblance to Whiteley’s cousin’s cat of the same ginger coat.

The rest of the story is dotted with archival interviews with Whiteley’s wife, Wendy, and other close friends and admirers. Wendy provides the most intriguing insights into the mind and art of her husband, recounting some pretty wild tales about their days spent in the penthouse of the infamous Chelsea Hotel. While the creative haven helped Whiteley thrive artistically, it unfortunately fueled his drug addiction, too. From this point in the film, shit gets dark, and Whiteley becomes less eccentric-genius, more arrogant-junkie. Things spiral fast, and before you know it, you’re hearing about the time he thought he could end the Vietnam War with a piece of his art.

I would like it to be known that while I found that claim to be quite a stretch,  it is true that his work will stop you in your tracks. Surreal doesn’t even scratch the surface of his creations, and I heard myself gasp twenty times more at his artistry than I sighed at its retelling. I also know that a lot of work went into this film by his ex-wife and close friends, and despite my personal gripes with the film, they should be proud of what they created. But at the end of the day, if you want to get to know the real Brett Whitely, you don’t need to go and see this film. You need to go and see his paintings.

Whiteley is out nationwide on 11 May.

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