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'Nan Goldin—I Remember Your Face': Film Review

Nan Goldin I Remember Your Name - H 2014
Medea Films

The Bottom Line

Intimate doc dovetails nicely with the themes of Goldin's work.

Venue

Kino! Festival of German Films

Director

Sabine Lidl

Sabine Lidl observes photographer Nan Goldin through interactions with the friends who became her subjects.

NEW YORK—Photographer Nan Goldin became famous not just for the sometimes lurid scenes she photographed but for her obvious connection with the action: The drug addicts, sexual adventurers and societally marginal characters in her snapshot images were very clearly, as she would put it, her "tribe." Sabine Lidl makes the natural choice, then, in Nan Goldin—I Remember Your Face, which gets to know Goldin exclusively through her interactions with longtime friends who have doubled as subjects. The refreshing result addresses the passage of time without melancholy, finding an artist who survived a scene that might well have claimed her life, and has maintained enduring relationships to show for it. It will play well for art-savvy audiences at fests and beyond.

Berlin actor Clemens Schick epitomizes the way life and work are all but synonymous for Goldin. Having met the then-waiter while dining out in 1996, she gave him her phone number in hopes of seducing him. She wound up both photographing and bedding the handsome younger man, starting a friend-model relationship that continued even when he admitted, the next day, that he was involved with someone else.

Hopping from Paris (Goldin's part-time home) to Berlin, Turin and Vienna, the film spends more time with the artist's older friends, like Kathe Kruse, who shared a communal squat with her at the start of her career. "We were permanently naked in the '80s," Kruse recalls—and if the sometimes unhinged-looking scenes Goldin photographed seemed to bode ill for their participants, it's heartwarming to meet friends who survived them and are mellowing toward retirement age.

Plenty didn't make it, of course—a swath of Goldin's friends withered from AIDS in front of her camera. But the photographer doesn't dwell on this loss and avoids self-pity even when admitting to her own self-destructive behavior. Poring over old work (we see tons of it) as she assembles a retrospective monograph and new gallery shows, Goldin is clearly sustained both by her surviving friendships and the vivid chronicle she made of them.

"I'm not modest about it," she admits. "I think in the '80s I created a sea change in photography. That I gave people permission to show their own lives as valuable and as valid as all the other documentation of people they didn't know." Many of those she inspired could benefit from this doc, which quietly demonstrates the importance empathy for others plays in successfully transforming one's own life into art.

Production company: Medea Film
Director-Director of photography: Sabine Lidl
Screenwriters: Irene Hofer, Nan Goldin
Producer: Irene Hofer
Editor: Barbara Gies
Sales: Medea Film
No rating, 61 minutes