‘The Woodmans,' Exposed

"The Woodmans" -- now playing at the West End Cinema -- offers a candid yet difficult-to-watch series of interviews with Betty and Charles Woodman. The couple lost their remarkably talented photographer daughter Francesca to suicide at age 22.

They walk the audience through their lives in slow motion as they learn to cope with their loss, understand it and survive it; all of which they do with integrity as they look back and examine their own lives.
But the ending is so ironic, it makes you wonder if the suicide was meant to eclipse their own talents -- Betty as a ceramicist and Charles as a painter/photographer. Although many questions are answered, you still feel there is an underlying subtext waiting to be unveiled.

Would Francesca’s life have been any less important if she hadn’t followed “the family business”? Would that have been acceptable? Had the young photographer lived in a different era, would she have achieved the notoriety she sought? Why was she so impatient to get there?

Tormented, like many famous artists before her, Francesca seems to have experienced a growing depth of despair as she peeled back the layers as a student at RISD. Perhaps it's obvious looking back now, but it obviously wasn’t as apparent during the process.

One thing is for sure: Francesca Woodman was an intellectual, passionate talent whose photographic accomplishments in her 22 years could hardly be matched by anyone three times her age. But Charles Woodman, now 77, leaves us with a thought: “To stay alive is a pretty good thing to do.”

"The Woodmans," directed by Scott Willis, opened at the West End Cinema (2301 M St. N.W.) on March 31.


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