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When documentarian Lisa Immordino Vreeland began researching her latest film, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, she tried to secure an interview with Robert De Niro.
After all, De Niro’s parents — the late artists Virginia Admiral and Robert De Niro Sr. — were members of trailblazing patron Peggy Guggenheim’s circle of artists during the birth of abstract expressionism. But Vreeland was rebuffed and eventually gave up.
Years later, De Niro’s art advisor Megan Fox Kelly reached out to Vreeland so that her famous client could be included in the documentary. The resulting interview is one of the most poignant in the film, which recently screened at newportFILM on the resort island in Rhode Island.
“It was quite emotional,” Vreeland said of the interview that brought the actor to tears as he discussed his namesake father. “[They] actually had a hard relationship. His parents were divorced. His father ended up being gay. I don’t think that was the issue at all. I think it was just the relationship. His father suffered definitely from depression.”
The younger De Niro was a young boy when both of his parents had their first one-man shows in Guggenheim’s The Art of This Century gallery on W. 57th St. in Manhattan. During his formative years, the young De Niro interfaced with some of the most influential artists of the day — all nurtured by Guggenheim — like Barnett Newman and Hans Hofmann, who served as the actor’s godfather.
“The one thing that really struck me immediately about De Niro and about the footage [he provided] is that he came from this incredibly creative environment,” said Vreeland, whose previous documentary, 2011’s Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, tackled her late grandmother-in-law’s life and career as the influential fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar.
Despite her promising career, Admiral largely abandoned painting in order to take care of her toddler son. “Her life as an artist almost fell apart when his parents got divorced,” Vreeland added.
Over time, De Niro’s relationship with his father improved. When Robert De Niro Sr. died in 1993, his son decided to keep his father’s studio in SoHo 100 percent intact, something he has continued to do to this day.
“Ultimately he did have that relationship later in his life and right when his father ended up dying of cancer,” Vreeland said. “But I think it’s very difficult for him to speak about his father and about that time. I think it’s a very delicate subject for him.”
Submarine Deluxe will release Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict theatrically in November for an Oscar-qualifying run and then it will bow on VOD, digital and DVD in February.
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