Reel Deal Recap - Frida
By Dave Lundin, M.A.
Co-sponsored by APT and the Academic Council, the February 21, 2004 panel discussion was terrific as usual. We estimated that about 100 people attended, up from the last event's 73. Everyone started out enjoying Carlo Coppola's Mexican feast of tortilla soup, seasoned chicken, salad and other authentic Mexican goodies while listening to the music from "Frida," watching the film run silently, and chatting with other cinema lovers.
Victoria Schreiber then introduced Carlo and me with much appreciated thank-you gifts, following which I provided an introduction to the panel. A plot summary was provided to orient the audience, and some film clips were shown to warm up for the discussion.
The four-person panel followed with interesting and provocative remarks, each from a different perspective. Brian Murphy, Ph.D., summarized the mixed reviews of "Frida" available on over 100 internet sites. Some loved the film and others criticized it as a typical bio-pic with too much emphasis on Rivera, Frida herself being portrayed as "too hot," and a film where style ruled over substance. Brian loved the picture and sided with the positive reviews. He then commented on several other historical films on Frida's life and put the recent "Frida" in that context.
Ellen Schwartz, our art history professor panelist from EMU, showed matched pairs of slides that depicted the many influences on Frida's art including European art, Mexican culture, pre-Columbian art, populist philosophy, Communist ideology, modernism, surrealism, spirituality, folk art, and religious imagery.
David McGregor, in another look at film criticism, commented that any film that showed Trotsky having sex couldn't be all bad. He noted the circular nature of the film, starting and ending with the mysterious scene showing Frida being carried in bed to her final Mexican exhibition, combined with the film's quirky surreal style. His viewpoint was that any film reviewer is inevitably reviewing their own psyche, the film being the equivalent of a Rorschach test.
The Institute's Nancy Kulish focused on the life of the real Frida Kahlo, including themes of personal trauma, creativity and love. Frida had the capacity to embrace paradox, including bisexual identification, and had the accessibility to affect so necessary for creativity. Frida had several traumatic experiences in childhood, including her mother's unavailability, polio and finally the trolley accident resulting in her lifelong vulnerability, aloneness and seeking of love. For Frida, based on her diaries, Diego was indeed the center of her universe, despite both their infidelities. Dr. Kulish pointed out that Frida's last years were even more traumatic than the movie indicated as she suffered the amputation of one leg and was addicted to pain killers. Her death, in fact, may even have had suicidal overtones. The audience discussion focused on a number of provocative issues, including why Frida picked a known womanizer, how she dealt with her numerous traumas, what the quality of her love for Diego really was, how her art related to her traumas, and perhaps most of all, the difference between loyalty--more emotional and spiritual--and fidelity--more physical--and how they interrelate to create a new lifestyle.