'Call Her Applebroog': Film Review

Call Her Applebroog - Ida Applebroog 2 - H 2016
Courtesy of Emily Poole/A Zeitgeist Film
A revealing doc of the most personal kind.

Beth B's documentary profiles her mother, the famed artist Ida Applebroog.

Veteran filmmaker Beth B (Two Small Bodies, Exposed) didn't have to search too far for inspiration for her latest documentary. It's a cinematic portrait of her mother, celebrated artist Ida Applebroog, whose deeply personal paintings, sculptures and films have garnered worldwide acclaim. The revealing Call Her Applebroog recently received its world premiere at the Doc Fortnight Festival and is scheduled for a June theatrical release by Zeitgeist Films.

Applebroog, sporting close-cropped grey hair and large black eyeglasses, is an impressive figure, and also a sometimes daunting one. There are times during the proceedings when her impatience with her daughter's relentless questioning is readily apparent, such as when she abruptly terminates one exchange with, "May I please end on that? I need to go."

The artist, now 86, was born into an Orthodox Jewish household and had a less than affectionate upbringing. Her father used to complain that God had punished him by giving him three daughters. She retreated into herself — "Silence was very, very nurturing," she comments — and later found solace through artistic creativity, including obsessively sketching her genitals while in the bathtub.

The documentary includes many examples of her work, ranging from animation using paper cut-outs to readings from her self-published books to paintings and drawings and mixed-media pieces. Throughout the proceedings, she delivers a halting account of her life, including such episodes as when she was hospitalized for depression. Having married her high-school sweetheart, her name was Ida Horowitz, until she changed it in the 1970s to Applebroog, based on her maiden name of Applebaum (she says she has no idea where the "broog" came from).

Call Her Applebroog includes the usual artist-themed documentary tropes, such as footage of glamorous gallery and museum openings and conversations with curators and gallery owners. But it's in the more personal moments — such as when the artist enthusiastically describes her painting of an elderly Marilyn Monroe — that it becomes most interesting. And, of course, the director has the sort of access to her subject, both logistically and emotionally, that gives the film a unique tension … even if Applebroog ultimately has the last word.

"Close the camera," she instructs her daughter, who dutifully complies.

Venue: Doc Fortnight 2016
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films
Production: Jean Lignel, B Productions
Director-director of photography-editor: Beth B
Executive producers: Jean Lignel, Beth B
Composer: Jim Coleman

Not rated, 70 minutes