By Jef Dinsmore on Jul 21, 2015 to Documentaries

Doc-logoOverview: Jane Anderson has a story about her great-aunt, Edith Lake Wilkinson. One day in the mid-1960s, Jane’s mother suggested to her sister-in-law that they go up into the attic, where they discovered hundreds of Edith’s paintings packed into trunks. Jane’s mother brought the paintings back to California, and Jane grew up surrounded by Edith’s work. Back in 1924, Edith had been committed to an asylum at the age of 57, and Jane has DocsPackedtTrunkspent much of her adult life trying to figure out how she got there. Piecing together fragments of information, Jane knows that Edith left her family home in 1888 to study art in New York. She met a woman named Fannie while studying at Teacher’s College, and they moved into an apartment together. Edith and Fannie went abroad a number of times, and Edith spent summers at the art colony in Provincetown, MA. But everything changed when Edith was signed in to the Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Baltimore by her lawyer, who it turns out had been siphoning off her inheritance. Edith died in 1957.


Expectations: The official Overview goes on for three more lengthy paragraphs. The point of it all is that the filmmaker and relative, Jane Anderson, had a mystery on her hands and a journey to take and to chronicle. Yeah, I’ll bite and I hope it is an interesting discovery.


Gut Reaction: I sort of downplayed this documentary in my thoughts above because I wasn’t overly intrigued enough to delve deeper. I state that I hoped the piece proved interesting and surprisingly it was. Jane Anderson is a filmmaker so she had the opportunity to investigate the mystery of her great aunt and did so quite well and with the aid of director Michelle Boyaner was able to convey her quest quite nicely. In fact, as a documentary that was not one of the big controversial works it proved one of the best presented pieces I’ve seen in a while.Doc_PackedTrunk01

It starts with Jane’s re-discovery of her lost relatives skills as a painter. They were packed away in a trunk and finally saw the light of day once again. The mystery of whom Edith was and why she stopped painting and why she was locked away are all investigated as facts fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle. Not all the answers are there, but there are enough to give validity to Wilkinson’s artistry and life. It all comes full circle nicely with a gallery opening displaying the works as they were meant.

Now that is a rushed breakdown of the documentary for sure, but it is best to see it for yourself than read my words because you have to see and experience the artworks yourself and you got to walk through the clues to their end on your own. By the conclusion you will surely feel that Anderson’s work and passion paid off and the exhibition of the lost works was a hit, at least for her and Provincetown Massachusetts.  

Having said all that about enjoying the art, the story and the mystery I have to cite a fault with this piece as well. Someone else might not take it this way, but I found Jane Anderson to be quite annoying. I respect and understand her enthusiasm for this lost relative that she greatly connected with but she takes it over the top and drags the piece down for it I believe. I don’t know if it is her gayness or her creativity Doc_PackedTrunk02or her strong bonding to Edith Wilkinson or what, but she was so overdramatic over every little reveal about her relative that it was annoying to me. As if we were too be a elated as she was; as if we were to get caught up on all the speculation as she was. Sorry, that didn’t quite happen and the theatricality was laughable. God, aren’t I an insensitive bastard! Then she ruined it for me for sure when she utilized the services of a physic medium to connect even further with her great aunt. That segment was too much for me. Thank goodness the film didn’t end with that.


In Conclusion: Now that seems a bit harsh maybe, but many a good topic is ruined by a bad host or narration. I am sure she was genuinely moved by all she learned on her task and that is why I don’t let that aspect of the piece destroy my genuine pleasure and learning about Edith Lake Wilkinson and what it took to get her works back in public view.     


Next Week: HBO airs an encore presentation of CASTING BY on 07.27 beginning at 6:30pm. The new documentary TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A debuts on 08.03. HBOWatch will review it, but it will be late due to a vacation.


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