Roy Lichtenstein (1991)

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Lichtenstein, who died in 1997, created a huge commotion in the world of art in the 1960s with his enlarged canvases of blowups from comic strips and comic books. He has come to rank today right next to Andy Warhol as a top name in pop art, fueled by a similar spectacular guile. However, unlike Warhol, Lichtenstein wasn't obsessed with celebrities and larger-than-life personalities. Instead, Lichtenstein concentrated on anonymous mechanical reproductions of mass media images.

One of his identifying tricks was his widespread use of giant Benday dots, which color printers of comic strips and billboards use to give color effects. He also carefully chose the dialog "balloons" he reproduced from comics along with the images. A recent photo exhibit of his studio by one of his assistants has a closeup of dozens of comic strip words he collected for possible use in his paintings, such as blam!, fizzt!, bopp! etc.

A good portion of the documentary is the likable Lichtenstein being interviewed by Chris Hunt in his NYC studio. He tells of getting started on his unique style by blowing up images of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse for one of his children. With it hanging in his studio he found it had a surprising expressiveness and he pursued enlarging more such comic images. He didn't care about the story, he just cut out specific figures from strips that could be models for one of his paintings. Andy Warhol also worked briefly with comic strips, but upon seeing some of Lichtenstein's work he gave it up and concentrated on soup cans and celebrity portraits. Lichtenstein's figures are super-cliched on purpose -- he wanted them without special features but instantly recognizable to everyone.

The film shows some of his later work in two somewhat new directions -- one creating his own comic strip representations of famous paintings by Picasso, Braque and others, and another in which he became fascinated with reflections, which he emulated on his paintings with angled strips of Benday dots. In 1964 the NY Times ran an article on Lichtenstein titled "One of the Worst Artists in America;" in 2005 they ran another titled "The Greatness of Roy Lichtenstein's Pop Art."

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