Interview with Phil Grabsky, Writer/Director of "Hopper-An American Love Story". In Theatres now!
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
Image credit: Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, oil on canvas
To coincide with The Whitney Museum’s major exhibition,“Edward Hopper’s New York” the film is now out in cinemas across America.
Hopper: An American love story re-evaluates Hopper’s life and legacy. It takes a profound look into his art, his eccentric lifestyle, and his relationships. From his early career as an illustrator, his close collaboration with his wife Josephine, and his critical and commercial acclaim. The documentary film explores the enigmatic person behind the art.
Hopper’s wife Jo (Josephine Nivison Hopper) was a respected artist in her own right prior to her marriage to Edward in 1924. Her paintings were shown in prestigious exhibitions, but she gave it all up to become Hopper’s muse, his only model, and crucial to his success.
Told in their own words, featuring extracts from Jo’s diaries, the film reveals that their long marriage was stormy and tempestuous, but for all their frustrations, they couldn’t live without each other.
Phil Grabsky is a BAFTA-winning British Documentary filmmaker who hs received multiple awards for his directing, writing, producing, and cinematography.
I had the privilege of chatting with Phil about the film, the creation of his "EXHIBITION ON SCREEN" series, and his popular Blog "PAINTING OF THE WEEK."
I watched the film and enjoyed it immensely. It was engaging, intimate, and profound. How did you get started on this intriguing filmmaking path?
Phil Grabsky: As a teenager, I was passionate about photography, which quickly led to a passion for film.
What made you choose the DOCUMENTARY Genre?
Phil Grabsky: I was fascinated by Eastern Art. The first film I ever made was on the Dalai Lama and Tibet. It was just something I had a strong desire to manifest. That led to an offer to create a series on painters.
I found the documentary format was less expensive than making big Feature Productions. I also didn't have to jump through the hoops of other people's demands. I loved the intimacy of the documentary experience, a small crew, often just me and one or two others. There are always obstacles to overcome, but I get to choose what films I make.
How did you come up with the Script for the Edward Hopper story?
Phil Grabsky: I wrote the script by making use of all the notes and records I had from Edward Hopper's own words and the words others had written about him. You want to write the script that will make the film everyone wants to see. The film every Museum, College, Theater, Television, and Visual Broadcast medium wants to show. To have his words and the words of his wife Josephine was the ultimate. You need a script that will be the foundation of a film that will last for an extended period of time.
I had no idea Edward Hopper had so many paintings of New York. Being from New York, I was enchanted by the simple, haunting images. Why did he choose New York as a muse?
Phil Grabsky: My Mother was English, but my Dad was a New Yorker from Far Rockaway! He was one of the last people to be living in the neighborhood that was soon to become The Robert Moses Freeway. When I look at all the New York paintings, I know my Dad was looking at those same buildings, walking those streets, and crossing the same bridges. Edward Hopper studied and recorded his own life, but his focus was the American Experience. What better place to project those feelings onto canvas than the hustle-bustle and culture of New York?
I wanted to inquire about the unique success of Exhibition on Screen. How did that come about?
Phil Grabsky: I have collaborated with Director David Bickerstaff. Together, we pioneered
EXHIBITION ON SCREEN™ bringing exhibition-based art films to the cinema.
Working with top international museums and galleries, EXHIBITION ON SCREEN creates films offering a cinematic immersion into the world’s best-loved art, accompanied by insights from the world’s leading historians and art critics. Launched in 2011, EXHIBITION ON SCREEN has released 26 films that have been shown in over 66 countries across the globe. EXHIBITION ON SCREEN has extensive relationships with galleries around the world. Institutions such as the National Gallery (London), Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Tate, MoMA, Hermitage, National Gallery of Art (Washington DC), Royal Academy, and many more. These cinema films need to be created by filmmakers with experience making art films in and about galleries and museums that are also allied with distribution expertise. That’s what Seventh Art Productions and EXHIBITION ON SCREEN have to offer.
Exhibition on Screen launches its tenth season of art films with the release of Hopper: An American Love Story. Written and directed by BAFTA award-winning director; Phil Grabsky, this fascinating documentary examines the life and legacy of one of America's greatest artists, whose iconic streetscapes; and poignant portraits of American life continue to inspire and captivate audiences across the world. Writing for Time Magazine in 2011, Robert Hughes described Hopper as “Along with Jackson Pollock… probably the most original American painter of the 20th century.” Hughes also proposed that “no American painter has influenced popular culture more deeply," a claim easily evidenced by the countless artists, writers, filmmakers, photographers, cartoonists, and musicians who have drawn inspiration from his artworks. Defined by “a unique pictorial vocabulary, pioneering use of color, and mastery of light and shade” [Another Man, 2020], Hopper’s work is some of the most recognizable art in America, referenced and immortalized by such diverse creatives as Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Wim Wenders, David Hockney, Mark Rothko, Norman Mailer, Paul Auster, Tom Waites, The Simpsons, and Banksy. Yet for all their popularity, Hopper’s paintings remain as enigmatic today as when they were created, ensuring his place as one of the most intriguing artists of his generation. Filmed on location in the USA and Paris, Hopper: An American Love Story takes audiences on a profound journey, shining a light on Hopper’s art, vision, eccentric lifestyle, and relationships. Central to the story is his enduring collaboration with fellow artist, Josephine Nivison Hopper, his wife of 43 years, who unwittingly sacrificed her own career to bring him to prominence. The film features archival footage of interviews with Hopper, and insightful commentary from diverse international experts, interspersed with readings from Hopper’s and Josephine’s recently discovered diaries and letters. Hopper: An American love story is released to coincide with the opening of the Whitney Museum’s major exhibition Edward Hopper’s New York (Oct 2022 –Mar 2023): https://whitney.org/exhibitions/edward-hopper-new-york Exhibition on Screen films are available to stream at: https://seventh-art.com/product-category/exhibition-on-screen-2/ For more information, visit - https://exhibitiononscreen.com/films/hopper
Painting of the Week Podcast Seventh Art Productions Film Director Phil Grabsky and art-lover Laura Bentham meet each week to talk about paintings that inspire or excite them. Listen to their ‘Painting of the Week’ and explore some of the world’s most amazing art. For more information and to see the artwork being discussed please visit www.seventh-art.com/podcast