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Portraits Of Two Artists At Ucla

October 27, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and UCLA Film Archives' Contemporary Documentary Series continues tonight at 8 in UCLA's Melnitz Theater with a pair of films on two major artists, Thomas L. Neff's "Red Grooms: Sunflower in a Hothouse" and David Sutherland's "Jack Levine: Feast of Pure Reason."

With his three-dimensional, self-described "picto-sculpturamas," Grooms is currently riding the wave of critical and popular acclaim while the 70-year-old Levine, a member of the '30s WPA generation, is valiantly carrying the banner for social realism.

At 58 minutes, Sutherland's film offers the fuller, more satisfying portrait of the artist and Levine emerges as a witty, plain-spoken native of Boston's South End who still considers himself a Bostonian, though he's lived and worked in New York for 40 years. Acknowledging the influence of Grosz and Kokoschka, Levine has ranged widely among mainly topical subjects. With a satirist's eye he has depicted the McCarthy hearings, the civil rights movement, the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and even a Las Vegas show. In the course of the film we watch Levine paint a portrait of his daughter, a process of swiftness and intuition. This is a warm, affectionate film about a man as crusty as he is likable.

In the 20 minutes of Neff's film we can make only the slightest acquaintance of the soft-spoken, red-thatched Grooms, a native of Nashville who cites the early impact of that city's landmark copy of the Parthenon--"Kitsch, pop and classics all at once." Grooms doesn't want his "walk-in" works of art described as environments, but that's what his whimsical life-size reconstruction of a New York subway, for example, seems like. There's an infectious, cartoonlike quality to Grooms' work, and he says, "I think the only thing bad would be to leave anyone out." (213) 825-2345, 825-2581.

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