The Woodmans (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

May 31, 2012 by  

“The Woodmans” is a haunting documentary of an a talented artistic family that has faced the greatest of highs and the lowest of lows. But within this documentary’s underlying message is that in great tragedy, there is always the possibility of hope and redemption.   C. Scott Willis’ “The Woodmans” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2011 C. Scott Films LLC.   Kino Lorber, Inc. All rights reserved.

DVD TITLE: The Woodmans


DURATION: 83 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Color, 1:85:1, 16×9

COMPANY: Lorber Films


RELEASE DATE: June 5, 2012

Directed by C. Scott Willis

Produced by Neil Barrett, Jeff Werner, C. Scott Willis

Music by David Lang

Cinematography by Neil Barrett

Edited by Jeff Werner

Art Direction by Ekin Akalin


Francesca Woodman (archived footage)

Betty Woodman

George Woodman

Charles Woodman

Catherine Chermayeff

Edwin Frank

Robert Kushner

Sabina Mirri

Glenn Palmer-Smith

Sloan Rankin

Patricia Sawin

A fascinating, unflinching portrait of the late photographer Francesca Woodman, told through the young artist’s work (including experimental videos and journal entries) and remarkably candid interviews with her artist parents Betty and George (a ceramic sculptor and painter/photographer), who have continued their own artistic practices while watching Francesca’s professional reputation eclipse their own.

You often come across art families, in which a parental figure would have children who would pursue art endeavors, may it be in a different field, but yet showcasing amazing creativity.

From Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his two children Pierre and Jean, to the Benois family which included Russian painter Zinaida Yevgenyevna Serebriakova or the Australian artistic dynasty of the Boyd family.

In America, one family that has always received recognition was the Woodman’s.  From the world renown sculptor Betty Woodman and husband, painter (and photographer) George Woodman, these two have had a fantastic career of sharing the passion for art and living their lives, doing what they love.

And within the 50+ years they have been together, the two had children, Charles Woodman (an Associate Professor of Electronic Art in the University of Cincinnati) and daughter Francesca Woodman, a woman who would be known posthumously for her photography.

And while many artistic families have had their fair share of trials and tribulations, like any other family.  For the Woodman family, while their work is well-known, their lives have also changed due to tragedy.

In 2010, C. Scott Willis would create a documentary that would celebrate the work of the artistic family, but also show how tragedy had affected both Betty and George Woodman and how it would change their lives, not just personally but also artistically.

“The Woodmans” is a documentary that showcases Betty and George Woodman, two artistic individuals who found love and would continue their love of art by traveling all over the world, visiting various museums and in the process, knew that their children would be raised differently than other children.

Because of the constant moving, both Charlie and Francesca were raised by parents who focused on their art career, their passion for art and the children would be assimilated into that lifestyle.  Art was in their blood.

But for Francesca, unlike her parents who were sculptors and painters, Francesca Woodman would pursue photography, during a time when photography was not so much considered as an art form.  And as a teenager, she chose not to live with her parents but to attend a private Massachusetts boarding school, Abbot Academy, where she began to take interest in photography.    And while spending summer with her family in Italy, she spent time in the Florentine countryside experimenting on photography of herself in the nude.

Attending the Rhode Island School of Design and also studying in Rome, she would befriend Italian intellectuals and artists and while her photography was seen as amazing and creative, during the late ’70s, despite her creativity and unique style, the era was not open to creative art photography and the constant rejection of not being able to have a career in photography, began to eat away within her.

Francesca was a different type of individual who was dedicated to her art.  Her commitment to art was passed on from her parents to the children and she embraced it.  But unlike her parents’ success, her life which was art, began to be questioned.  Can she make a career with art?  Does anyone care for her art?  Without art…would she not exist?

On January 19, 1981, Francesca Woodman would take her own life by jumping out a loft window in New York.

Through C. Scott Willis’ documentary, viewers will be taken through a journey of learning about the Woodman family but also the work of Francesca Woodman, from her experimental videos and personal journals, up to how her death has made an impact and influenced photographers of today but also how her parents managed to live through this dark tragedy and continue to achieve success with their art today.


“The Woodmans” is presented in color and black and white archived footage.  The video quality for the modern footage is very good, editing was well-done and when it came to Francesca’s experimental videos, while shot in possibly 8 mm or 16 mm, the archived footage does show its age and lacks the clarity of the more modern scenes.  But by no means is that a distraction.  Francesca Woodman’s videos are fascinating, creative and manages to capture an era because of the technology limitations during that era. Video looks very good considering the various sources that were used to make this film.

The audio portion is clear, the Woodman family features dialogue that can be heard, but similar to the video, the aging video archives has audio that sometimes may be a little difficult to hear, but I personally had no problem understanding it.

As for subtitles or closed captions, there are none included with this DVD release.


“The Woodmans” does not come with any special features.

The Woodman family is one of America’s wonderful art families and will be known for their contributions to art, may it be Betty Woodman’s fantastic sculpts or George Woodman’s paintings or photography, which he had taken up after Francesca’s death.  And Charlie Woodman continues to teach about art at the University of Cincinnati.  Three professionals who have moved on, found a strength within their family to continuing pursuing what they enjoy and love.

But most importantly, making sure that people are aware of Francesca Goodman’s art through her photograph, videos and journals.

One of the primary things that I want to emphasize about “The Woodmans” is that Francesca’s suicide should never cloud her brilliant and unique photography.  There was no doubt that her work was ahead of its time and its unfortunate because the style of photography that she did back then, is a common style that one often sees today.

Her father continues her work, but not necessarily as a father who wants to keep his daughter’s memory alive, but more like a colleague and fellow professional who sees her artwork and gives it the credit that she deserves posthumously.

There is no doubt that Francesca Goodman’s artwork has received so much attention that even the documentary goes into discovering the mindset of her family.  May it be about their feelings towards her nude photography (which the parents are indifferent, considering they are artists), raising a family (know that their careers and art was their priority and their children would have to adjust to it) but also dealing with the competition amongst the Woodman family as Francesca’s work is becoming more respected after her death.

And as the parents’ words made this documentary come alive, detailing the life of an artist, artists with children and so forth…the people who were friends with Francesca were also quite intriguing as we learned about her life away from her parents.   Especially her mindset up to the day she died and how they feel about her death and her legacy today.

There are many artists, filmmakers, creative people who have created amazing work that was unfortunately ahead of its time.  Francesca Woodman is such a woman that one can look at her photography and interpret what they think that Francesca was trying to communicate.  Her parents have their opinion, her friends have their opinion and everyone else who have seen her photographs, may it be her with wallpaper over her to photos of her climbing walls and more.

These photos are incredible and inspirational and I am so glad that Francesca Woodman’s work has left an impression on many people.

But as Francesa was a talented individual, it’s important not to forget Betty Woodman, who has achieved worldwide recognition for her sculpts and her father George.  Both Betty and George are an amazing couple who lived their lives doing what they enjoyed.  And they knew right off the bat that they were not going to be your typical parents.  While their children were important to them, their work was so deadline intensive, that the parents were busy doing what the love and were always on the move.  As the parents would visit many museums or attend events where their work was being featured.

Both parents realized that they may not be the greatest parents when the children were younger but they did take care of their children, provide for them and even exposed them to their love of art.  Aside from the teen angst that both Charlie and Francesca had towards their parents, their relationship with their parents were strong as they got older.  But was their a correlation of Franscesca being needy because of how she was raised?   Could she have been saved?  There are so many questions that can be asked but truthfully, especially in the era that she lived in, her life was compounded by too many issues.  From relationships, insomnia, not finding a career, no one accepting her art, there were so many frustrations that she felt she had no where to go.  Perhaps, today’s medication may have helped her but one can only be helped, if they seek it. And for Francesca, she felt that she had nothing to live for.

Unfortunately, Francesca was a product of the time where not much emphasis was placed on photography, especially not like today’s society in which her pictures are considered extraordinary, especially for her use of long exposure times and movement.

Once again, her death was tragic but in the end, even if it took nearly three decades, her art is being recognized and because of that, it helps to bring some healing to her family.  This is a story that I have no doubt in my mind is therapeutic for the family and her close friends,  a way for them to share their memories, their feelings of Francesca Goodman, as a child to an adult but most importantly, to not let her tragedy overshadow her art.

It’s a documentary to show that with great tragedy, people must manage to move on and direct those emotions to something to positive.  And we see that in this film, for both Betty and George Goodman, that tragedy is painful, but there is hope to overcome the pain and channel it into something positive.

As for the DVD, it’s a solid documentary but unfortunately there are no special features.  I was hoping maybe a still gallery of the work created by the Woodman family or even an audio commentary by C. Scott Willis.  But I have watched many documentaries to know that the DVD’s for many documentaries typically don’t contain any special features.

Overall, “The Woodmans” is a haunting documentary of an a talented artistic family that has faced the greatest of highs and the lowest of lows. But within this documentary’s underlying message is that in great tragedy, there is always the possibility of hope and redemption.

C. Scott Willis’ “The Woodmans” is highly recommended!


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