The Art Gallery NSW’s Portraits film series screens in conjunction with the Archibald Prize, 2014. A cinematic response to the popular portraiture award and exhibition, it features films Bob Roberts, Capote, Broken Flowers, Vera Drake, Half Nelson, Downfall and The Conversation.
Robert Herbert is curator of the film program at the gallery. For Portraits, he focused on films that carry strong characterisation and can be viewed as intimate portraits of their protagonists. Herbert has responded to the prize in various ways in the past – looking, for example, at films where fame or perhaps portraits themselves play a central theme. “This year I started to think about those films that are not necessarily narrative driven but are driven by a central character,” he says. “It was an emotional and intuitive response. I thought about films that had stayed in my mind and haunted me because of the strength and complexity of that character.
“And so you have Capote, because Philip [Seymour Hoffman] has died, and because that strong characterisation he was renowned for cast a spell over me with its intensity,” he says. Downfall was chosen for Bruno Ganz’s powerful depiction of Hitler, while Imelda Staunton’s truthful and sharp portrayal of Vera Drake stayed with Herbert. “Half Nelson was Ryan Gosling’s breakthrough film, although a lot of people didn’t see it at the time,” he continues, “and The Conversation was a spellbinding performance by Gene Hackman.”
As for the Archibald Prize itself, it’s perhaps no coincidence the paintings Herbert finds himself drawn to most are the two that possess film-like qualities. Wendy Sharp’s Mr. Ash Flanders, actor and Abdul Abdullah’s portrait of Richard Bell (complete with Planet of the Apes insignia) are, “very rich, with a lot of depth,” he says. “They’re quite dramatic, cinematic moments. Like film frames.”
Portraits Film Series screenings are free to attend and run at 7:15pm on Wednesdays, and 2pm on Sundays until October 5 at the Domain Theatre. The Archibald Prizes runs until September 28.