Review: ‘Call Her Applebroog,’ Beth B’s Portrait of a Still-Vital Artist

Post on : 2016-06-13 00:58:27

“Call Her Applebroog,” a brief feature about the inventive, provocative artist Ida Applebroog, is less a documentary than a love letter. A love letter that conveys its affection and respect via a particular kind of discretion.

The movie is the work of Ms. Applebroog’s daughter, Beth B, the onetime underground filmmaker who emerged out of New York’s punk music and art scene in the late 1970s. Ms. B opens the movie with Ms. Applebroog’s recollections of her early childhood in the Bronx. The daughter of Orthodox Jewish immigrants, she was raised in a strictly religious household and told she “should not behave like the Yankees,” meaning the Americans around her. “I learned very early on,” Ms. Applebroog insists, “how power works.”

Her art addresses that theme, and others, but her work, often multimedia, is layered in ways that make it more complicated, and arguably more rewarding, than more baldly confrontational contemporary art. Beth B shows her mother’s work in some detail, punctuating these views with shots of the artist, who is now in her mid-80s, archiving her work and speaking with gallerists. Sometimes she gets around with a cane or walker, and sometimes she uses a scooter. In every other respect she gives no indication of frailty, speaking in an emphatic voice and engaging colleagues with a fierce alertness.

In one sequence with her daughter, Ms. Applebroog becomes tense when asked to reflect on her past journals. Later she tells a studio colleague, “You’re gonna get me into one of my fits.” When Ms. Applebroog opts to recollect her painful past, it’s on her own terms, and her daughter declines to press too hard. Beth B is not out to deliver a comprehensive biography. Instead, she achieves a vivid snapshot of a still-vital artist late in a still-purposeful life.

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