The Artist’s Wife
So much has been written, filmed and discussed about the Hamptons, it can be hard for outsiders to discern the difference between true and false. There’s “The Hamptons” of much ballyhooed hype, and the much less ostentatious East End, where most of us actually exist.
Quietly and authentically separating fact from fiction is “The Artist’s Wife,” an emotionally complex film that comes alive as a layered yet subtle slice-of-life that many East End filmgoers will find entertaining and relatable.
Written and directed by Tom Dolby and starring Lena Olin and Bruce Dern, the film —about an obeisant wife who has put her career on hold in service to that of her celebrated artist husband — strikes the perfect balance between routine reality and respectful homage of place, plot and character. Loosely based on Dolby’s own experiences, the movie goes behind closed doors and deep into the usually unseen domestic life of a long-married couple.
The former Wainscott resident says that the film was inspired by the Hamptons, the local landscape and some of the most notable art-world denizens who made their lives here.
“From the house, to the studio and all the local establishments and spaces, I wanted the locations to be ingrained into and inform the characters,” he says. “That authenticity of place is incredibly important.”
In a broader sense, “The Artist’s Wife” is also a familiar story, and one that will immediately draw comparisons to the lives of notable East End artists, such as Lee Krasner and her spouse, Jackson Pollock and Elaine de Kooning and her husband, Willem de Kooning.
“It’s a tribute to these women, a contemporary imagining of the journey of the stronger woman behind the man — and what happens when the relationship begins to crumble due to circumstances beyond either person’s control, “says Dolby.
Intimate, credible and quite moving, the 90-minute feature is a rare gift to the actors and audience, due to its believability.
“That’s why I took the movie, the insightfulness of the writer,” says Dern. “I like that fact that he was trying to capture something from his soul and his private life.”
“I was so moved by the story, and by Claire’s [her name in the film] character. You really feel that Tom put his heart into this,” she says. “And as a person who is always striving for authenticity and intimacy in my work, it’s wonderful to have experienced it with this film.”
From the spot-on performances to the brilliant location choices (including a big, black behemoth of a modern house on East Hollow Road in East Hampton, a Pollock-inspired barn studio, and pivotal scenes shot at the beach, Three Mile Harbor, Guild Hall, Golden Eagle and White’s Apothecary, to name a few) and little-seen deep winter scenery, the feature film captures the natural essence of the Hamptons and the people who call it home.
Olin, who lives in New York and is a frequent visitor to the East End, notes that the locations in the film are integral to the story.
“The setting really informs the character,” says the Academy Award nominee. “And the house was a huge part of the story, down to the artwork and the form of the structure itself.”
The actual residence depicted in the story had been owned by friends of the director at one time, he reports. It was what he saw in his mind’s eye as he was writing the film.
That personal selection and setting is key to the telling of the story, says Dern.
“It plays a part in two of the most revealing scenes,” he reports of the home. “One, when I throw the painting out of my house and later when the house is all torn apart and I’m flinging the stuffing from the furniture at the painting. That shows that I forgot how to paint but I’m doing all I know how to do, which is putting the stuff of my life on the canvas.”
Being truly present in such dramatic beats is what makes for such a credible performance, according to his co-star.
“Bruce has this very different and brave way of throwing himself into his scenes,” she says of the Academy Award-winning actor. “It’s so powerful and moving, a rare thing to see onscreen.”
On the face of it, Dern’s approach to his work is uncomplicated, though what shines through is anything but simple.
“Don’t perform. Don’t act. Just be,” he says of turning the what’s on the page into reality. “It’s not about showing, it’s about letting the viewer find it on their own.”
“The Artist’s Wife” premiered at the HIFF this past October. It will be screened in theaters this summer.