Larry Wessel’s documentary feature film, Love, is a profile of artist Beth Moore-Love. Instead of a routine and obvious biography, the film explores Moore-Love’s various paintings as she, often with the assistance of her painting mentor Dale Caudill, explains her inspirations and the ideas contained within them. In this way, the biography still comes through, only framed by the subject matter of the art, giving a unique perspective on the artist’s personal history.
And if her story doesn’t interest you, perhaps the art itself will. Populated with dismemberment, s**t, small children, wild animals and strange historical context, her artwork often delivers on shock, though conversation reveals that the grotesque has a purpose. Sure, some elements just fit, but everything ties into the idea that she’s hoping to get across (which varies by painting), and are surprisingly often based on actual events or forgotten stories.
It’s rare that any artist, outside of perhaps a filmmaker commentary track, sits down and goes through their work explaining why they did what they did. And in that regard, this film is comprehensive in its dissection of Beth Moore-Love’s artwork, as she details what stories inspired her to create, what other bits of art or ephemera served as a springboard for her transformative ideas. If you’re curious about any of her artwork, this is the place for the straight skinny on all of it.
Of course, the plus and minus of that is, while it is a rare gift to peek behind the artistic curtain, sometimes you just don’t want to know, or the actual explanation doesn’t quite live up to the one inside your head. The latter is the risk many an artist try to mitigate with vague answers or outright refusals to discuss their inspiration or thought-process. I personally like both takes; sometimes the mystery is better, and sometimes it’s fascinating regardless. In this case, it’s fascinating.
That said, I think the edit of this film is a little too bloated for my tastes. I get the idea of wanting to let things breathe, lest you be stuck with the less interesting structure of ticking off the boxes in the stroll through Moore-Love’s paintings that almost would feel like the documentary equivalent of a website “listicle.” At the same time, some aspects of this broadening of the pace were too much for me. For example, in the opening, we get about three minutes or so of scenic footage of New Mexico. I get setting the context and stage, but it was excessive. This coupled with the almost two hour run time and… this could be much tighter. I understand why that might not be something the filmmaker wants to do, but it would’ve been my preference that the film was tightened up some more.
Then again, it speaks to the goal of the film, right? If it’s me, and I want to introduce folks to the artist and her work in the most entertaining, far-reaching fashion possible, I choose a few of her best paintings (however that distinction could be made) and I make a tight edit that would be less challenging to the short attention span set. If the goal is to comprehensively catalog her career up to this point, then this film’s structure and pace makes much more sense. If this were a film in wide release, I’d see this as the extended director’s cut, with a much shorter, still fascinating, cut possible.
And that’s about where I fall with the film. I did not know Beth Moore-Love’s artwork prior to seeing this film, and I relished the opportunity to get inside the head of the artist to hear the stories behind so many strange, often disturbing, paintings. I found much to embrace and enjoy about the film. At the same time, it felt too long for me, mainly due to aspects I saw as padding (such as the scenic shots). Still, as far as comprehensive profiles of an artist and their work goes, I can’t imagine this film left too much out, and if you’re already a fan of Beth Moore-Love’s paintings, or are looking for something uniquely grotesque and powerful, then Love delivers.
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