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PBS Home Video presents
The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo (2004)

"She painted others, but her main subject was herself. She was invaded by her own sickness and what she saw was herself."
- Elena Poniatowska

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: February 28, 2006

Stars: Rita Moreno, Lila Downs
Other Stars: Carlos Fuentes
Director: Amy Stechler

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexual and disturbing imagery, brief nude photos)
Run Time: 01h:26m:14s
Release Date: February 28, 2006
UPC: 841887051804
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-A-B B

DVD Review

One of the great artists of the 20th century was Frida Kahlo, recently memorialized in the Julie Taymor biopic starring Salma Hayek. This debut documentary from Amy Stechler (ex-wife of Ken Burns and editor on Burns' Huey Long and Brooklyn Bridge documentaries) fits firmly into the family mold and is of similarly high quality.

Kahlo, born in 1907 near Mexico City, lived a life of emotional and physical pain. The daughter of a photographer, she turned to painting as she attempted to recover from a horrific bus accident that broke her spine and pelvis and crushed her right leg. Like Beethoven, she found depth of artistry through introspection, obsessively painting self-portraits that frequently ventured into the weird and surreal in nature. Her emotional state comes through the paintings as various things, both good and bad happen to her over the course of her life.

One of the great influences on Kahlo was her on-and-off relationship with the muralist Diego Rivera. United by art, they were something of an odd couple; he was six feet tall and weighed 300 pounds, while she was tiny, weighing only a third of that. Despite a deep emotional affinity, Rivera found himself unable to be faithful, resulting in heartache and unhappiness for them both, especially when he took up with Frida's sister Cristina. The documentary does a good job of portraying their struggles, and their turbulent relationship as it was expressed through their creativity.

As usual for a Burns-style documentary, there are plenty of talking heads commenting on the principals interspersed with photos and silent footage of Kahlo and Rivera. Since she died only about fifty years ago, numerous people who knew Kahlo are still alive to comment on their recollections of her, making this film a valuable document as well as a documentary. Rita Moreno contributes a sensitive narration, while Lila Downs reads from Kahlo's writings. The film touches on the artist's romantic relationships both with men and women, though it generally does so tastefully. Most importantly, a wide array of Kahlo's paintings are seen, and they're well reproduced. For a first directorial effort, this is quite a fine one, and I look forward to more documentaries from Stechler.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture looks quite fine, as it should for a 2004 production. Colors are vivid, as is detail. As mentioned above, the paintings themselves reproduce quite nicely, with very little aliasing or other artifacts to detract from examination of the images.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 audio tracks are quite clean. The Mexican guitar music throughout has suitable presence without being overbearing. Hiss and noise are practically nonexistent.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English (Closed caption only), Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The sole extra is almost 24 minutes of additional interview footage with three of Kahlo's four longtime students. They reminisce about her teaching techniques and philosophies of art, as well as personal anecdotes. It's in these interviews that Kahlo really comes alive, and they make an excellent supplement to the biographical narrative, though they probably would have been too much of a tangent to be incorporated into the program proper.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

An intense and probing look at the real life of Frida Kahlo, with some excellent bonus interview footage. Well worth checking out for anyone interested in the artist's dramatic life.


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