If you were lucky enough to stand under Maman, the larger of the two sculptures in Louise Bourgeois’s “Spiders”exhibit at Rockefeller Center in the summer of 2001, you may recall the exquisite terror of looking up and seeing a sculpted egg sac, which looked ready to expel several giant arachnids on your head. The nonagenarian artist, as seen in this smart, respectful documentary shot between 1993 and 2007, is something of an exquisite terror herself. Fan Robert Storr calls her a “vampire”; the tiny, wizened Bourgeois frankly admits, “My emotions are inappropriate to my size.”
As the title of her Tate Modern–commissioned installation I Do I Undo I Redo suggests, Bourgeois’s work entrances due to the way she constantly works through those outsize emotions, often attached to childhood traumas of abandonment and betrayal. Her work is genius because she refuses to restrict those memories to the narcissistic banality of personal drama, instead elevating them to myth. Filmmakers Marion Cajori (who died in 2006) and Amei Wallach are smart enough to grant us just the right amount of access to the great artist’s full range of emotions, whether pique (“You are not listening to me because you are afraid of me,” she says to Wallach) or tears.