2 January 2013 | DLewis
Grandma Moses at Home, at her Farm, in her Work
"Grandma Moses" is an interesting and charming portrait of American painter Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known by her nom de plume of Grandma Moses. She is shown painting by her bed on her specially prepared wood cement boards, providing refreshment to her grandson as he works the farm, chatting with a neighbor. She invites a group of children to look at ancient portraits from her own family album and we briefly hear her voice as she describes the people in the photographs. The main voice we hear is that of Archibald MacLeish, describing the importance of Grandma Moses as an American artist in terms that would make the average American artist blush with pride. Ultimately his voice is no longer heard and carefully chosen details from Grandma Moses' paintings -- underscored with Hugh Martin's music -- take over in a flight of fancy.
Alec Wilder arranged the music attractively, and in a way it is a shame that he did not compose it too; in keeping the music innocent and brightly cheery, Martin plays it a little innocuous and sweet, and this dates the film somewhat. On the plus side, both filmmaker Jerome Hill and cinematographer Erica Anderson have really good eyes for capturing features in Grandma Moses' paintings that seem almost to move, and cleverly paced camera-work and editing amplifies that effect. This film was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost out to Disney's "Beaver Valley," which would have been hard to defeat as it was the first Disney nature film, enormously popular and itself introduced a new kind of spin on the documentary. "Grandma Moses" has its roots in the American documentary school of the 1930s and thus may have seemed a bit more old-fashioned in 1951 than the slickly commercial Disney film, but there was nothing "new-fashioned" about the subject of Grandma Moses. The filmmakers labored hard to remain true to the basic values of Grandma Moses and her work, and it is of great value to us that Hill and Anderson filmed her in her natural surroundings, at her own farm -- something we cannot experience from her fragmentary television interview with Edward R. Murrow; the only other film we have of Grandma Moses.