By Frédéric Compain
Bill Utermohlen (1933-2007), an American painter living in London, had the misfortune to come of age as a figurative artist in an era when conceptual and abstract art ruled the day. But in 1995, Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The diagnosis would change his life and transform his art.
Almost immediately, he began a series of paintings called "The Conversation Pieces." The brightly colored works, reminiscent of Matisse, are set at home, featuring his wife, friends and colleagues in conversation. Notably absent or present, but distant from the other figures is Utermohlen himself, already isolated by his disease.
That distance would become more pronounced in Utermohlen's last and greatest body of work: a series of increasingly dark and grim self-portraits. Although he covered all the mirrors in his home, not wanting to see the man he was becoming, Utermohlen continued to create powerful paintings of himself. He would continue to paint them even after losing much of his mobility and his ability to write. (One heartbreaking sequence in the film shows pages from Utermohlen's notebook in which he struggles to write his name, and finally concludes "I cnot wright.")
Glassy-Eyed features extensive interviews with the painter's wife, art historian Patricia Utermohlen, and innovative, playful sequences capturing the process of artistic creation.
Utermohlen's final body of work is of interest both for its artistic merit and also for the deep insights it offers into the experience of Alzheimer's. The self-portraits represent a "veritable clinical journal" like no other.
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"Gripping message!" Pierra Hemptinne, La Mediatheque
"A fatal odyssey of which this documentary translates the dizzying intensity." Froncois Ekchajzer, Télérama
"Moving testimonial!" AgeVillage.com
"Highly Recommended. Glassy-Eyed brings together a poignant account and arresting images that beautifully capture the fragility-and resilience-of the human mind, spirit and creative impulse. It is highly recommended for libraries in general, as the breadth of its subject matter foes well beyond the realm of art." Educational Media Reviews Online
Awards & Conference Screenings
First Prize, Medical Section,
2010 International Festival of Health Films
Essay Prize, 2009 National Festival
of Short Film Handica Apicil
Alzheimers Care Series: This three-part series addresses common but often misunderstood behaviors of patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. With the methods of interaction and intervention presented, caregivers can redirect and defuse these behaviors while keeping patients' dignity intact.
Family Matters: Brings to life the emotional challenge of accepting the diagnosis that a family member has Alzheimer's disease, and of finding new ways to relate and communicate within the family. It's a frightening and humbling journey, but this engaging program offers some guideposts along the way.
My Mother, My Father Series: This two-part series portrays four families caring for aging parents. Their choices include care at home, use of a variety of support services, and nursing home placement. The follow up video revisits each family after a period of seven years, to explore changes in family dynamics and the caregivers' thoughts about their own aging.
Alzheimer's & African Americans: Echoes from the Past: Examines the high incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the African-American community, through the first-hand experiences of families who are providing care for a loved one with this devastating dementia. Health professionals offer realistic discussion of diagnosis and treatment, as well as genetic factors, financial concerns, and caregiver stress.
To rent or purchase this film, please visit the Icarus Films website