Very early in the documentary Call Her Applebroog, visual artist Ida Applebroog, now in her mid-eighties, says one result of her being the child of very strict German immigrants (who always instructed her to not “act like the Yankees”) was that she developed a firm interest in and grasp of the workings of power. Director Beth B., Applebroog’s daughter and an acclaimed director in her own right, proves to be her mother’s child in strong but unforced ways; she fills her film with examinations of power in ways both explicit and implicit, conscious and perhaps unintended. As a result, this tender tribute to her mother resonates in ways the viewer may not expect and may not fully appreciate if they simply coast on its surface.
One of the first ways power is examined is in Applebroog’s approach to art itself, how it’s defined, how its relationship to the audience is mediated by arts institutions. We see the artist, during one massive exhibition of her work, making samples of her art available for free to all visitor’s to the art space; at the same time, hired hands walk the perimeters with excerpts from her journals (kept over decades) printed on sandwich boards. She’s upending standard operating procedure, bridging the distance between artist and “consumer” with the glue of real intimacy (her journal entries).
Intellectually sharp and still deeply engaged with the world, Applebroog is both warm and oft times abrupt. Her daughter’s questions, which are always respectful, are sometimes rebuffed – at least initially – but there’s never any doubt of the strength of their relationship. As the artist’s life is slowly unpeeled, with her process, inspiration and goals outlined, and with the more painful aspects of her private life addressed but never lingered over or exploited, the film subtly explodes a host of clichés. There are countless stories of children of artists (of any stripe) being damaged by their parents’ singular pursuit of their craft, with many artists (men and women) emerging as ogres in the way they dealt with their children. That’s clearly not the case here. The conversation between Applebroog and Beth B. is one between women, artists, mother and child, and watching Call Her unfold in all its layers and complexity is to be reminded how few of those conversations (in fiction and non-fiction), let alone their overlap have been presented in their full richness and complexities on film.
Call Her Applebroog is playing limited runs throughout the country for the next few months. Click here for dates and locations.