Date: August 13, 2018

NOW AVAILABLE: Watch Paul Cadmus: Enfant Terrible at 80 Online

"Every once in a great while, a film comes along to demonstrate other possibilities, other approaches. One such production is PAUL CADMUS: ENFANT TERRIBLE AT 80. The portrait is remarkably compelling ... the intense close-up succeeds in illuminating something of the artistic process that, no matter the finished style, is always profoundly serious." -John J. O'Connor, THE NEW YORK TIMES

When a morally indignant admiral threw Paul Cadmus's painting of rowdy sailors out of a WPA exhibition in 1934, it was only the first scandal in the artist's unusual career. In this intimate film portrait, Cadmus, at 80, makes a nude drawing of his long time companion Jon Andersson, demonstrates his mastery of ancient painting technique, and candidly recounts his past as a prominent American scene painter and controversial social satirist.

Looking up, the artist abruptly lifts his pencil from the paper. "The wrist's in the wrong position," he says, lifting himself from his seat on the floor. He approaches the nude model and makes an imperceptible change in the alignment of the man's fingers. Satisfied, he returns to his seat. "Generally, men are much better models," he says as he resumes sketching. "They work harder on their posing, perhaps because they're so much vainer than women." His voice hesitates but his pencil keeps moving. "Or maybe women think they're so lovely they don't have to pose well. I don't know."

The artist, Paul Cadmus, is the focus of this intimate film portrait, "Paul Cadmus: Enfant Terrible at 80," directed by David Sutherland.

In 1934, while on the government's WPA, Cadmus painted a satiric view of rowdy sailors on shore leave in a New York park. The painting was chosen for a special exhibit of works by New Deal painters, and it was hung at Washington's Corcoran Gallery. Before the opening, a VIP group viewed the exhibit. The group included a strait-laced admiral who was outraged at what he considered an insult to America's sailors, and ordered the painting removed. The affair became something of a national issue, the center of an often amusing debate about government censorship and the morals of American military men. The confiscated painting, "The Fleet's In" was lost, and only recently re-discovered. Sutherland's film records Cadmus' reaction at seeing the painting for the first time after more than 45 years, at a retrospective of his work in Oxford, Ohio.

Sutherland's goal was to make a different kind of artist's profile. "I wanted to make a film about an artist and his work, without using narrators and interviewers who would come between the viewers and the subject. The goal was to get the artist to act as host in a film about himself."

Cadmus talks engagingly about subjects ranging from his life-long commitment to satire and exaggeration ("People's noses should be rubbed in all sorts of things, pleasant and unpleasant, or else they skip it.") to the paradoxical contrast between an artist's work and his life ("Be regular and ordinary in your life, like a bourgeois," he says, quoting Flaubert, "So you can be violent and original in your art.") He demonstrates his masterful technique of sketching the nude, and painting in egg tempera. He reveals much about himself and his work, but he will not, he insists, tell all. "I'm not going to unravel all the mysteries," he warns, "I think people should discover them for themselves."

Watch the film now on Vimeo.