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The Art of the Steal Movie Review

When Albert C. Barnes died in 1951, he left behind an extraordinary collection of almost 800 paintings, including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, as well as several Van Goghs. Today, the collection is valued in the billions, as many of the paintings are invaluable pieces of modern art. During his lifetime, the Barnes Collection rested in a building in Lower Merion, PA. However, after his death the art has been mired in controversy.

The Art of the Steal, which plays this weekend at Theatre N in Wilmington (click here for showtimes), is a documentary about the fight to prevent the Barnes from being transported to Center City, Philadelphia, a mere 15-minute drive away.

The film touches on the politics, corruption, and greed which accompanied the move. The problem is that in Mr. Barnes’ will he expressly forbade his collection from moving from where he placed it. He had carefully constructed an intimate place for his art to reside and wished to preserve that aspect of learning and culture which he had established. However, in the 1990s, many powerful people desired to move the precious artwork into Philadelphia.

Going into more detail would only diminish the film’s effect. The Art of the Steal is an extremely well-crafted documentary. It takes a seemingly dull, legally confusing tale and engages the audience by telling a story.

That is the heart of filmmaking – storytelling. Although traditionally documentaries have remained dull and purely informative, they can also become great films by telling a story. We have seen this more and more often in recent years, with movies such as An Inconvenient Truth and this year’s The Cove.

Director Don Argott skillfully tells a story through old-fashioned ways (interviews, archival pictures, you know – typical documentary fare) but his skill really shines through. Rather than being dull talking heads, the interviews are framed excellently, but it isn’t distracting, and other visual cues (such as scene titles every once-in-a-while) pull you into the story.

Now, some have argued that the film is too subjective, including Bernard C. Watson, head of the Barnes Foundation, who wrote a scathing editorial on the film. The film definitely has a stance, but the facts are represented truthfully, and much effort was made to keep the movie from becoming too one-sided. The fact remains that most of the opposition to the film declined to be interviewed for it.

As a film, The Art of the Steal succeeds both in telling a story and defending an argument. I had never heard of the Barnes Collection, but I came out of the film with strong feelings about the film’s subject matter. Whether you have a personal investment in the story or not, this is a fantastic documentary.

[xrr rating=4/5]

One Response to “The Art of the Steal Movie Review”

  1. [...] that currently resides in Lower Merion, PA. I loved the movie and you can see my full review over at Atomic Popcorn. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)What I Watched This Week (Mar. 7-Mar. 13)What I [...]

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