Footage is shown with Mark rather aggressively directing Marla's painting. The tide turns: collectors froth at the mouth, journalists and critics harrumph, hate mail arrives in bulk, and the Olmsteads feel shunned in their own community. They take steps at vindication, but things only get more complicated.
If you watch many documentaries these days, you're sick of filmmakers putting their mugs and ruminations on camera, whether germane to the subject or not. But there's a real intensity to Ben-Levy's soul-searching in My Kid Could Paint That, as he weighs emotional attachment to the Olmsteads and their expectation of loyalty against his own nagging doubts and the golden prospect of a vérité exposé.
My Kid Could Paint That provokes on numerous levels. Regardless of whether she's all that or not, can so much scrutiny cynical or flattering be good for Marla? As the title suggests, Ben-Levy's film also examines deep populist hostility toward abstract (as opposed to traditional representational) art. Perhaps the only question this fascinating documentary doesn't address is one that lands between artistic-value and cult-of-personality terrains. If Marla Olmstead turns out not to be sole creator of these paintings, why are they suddenly worth less? The oil canvases are vividly colored, complex, often ravishing. I'd be thrilled to have a print, let alone an original.
The creepiest folks in My Kid Could Paint That are those whose art appreciation gets turned off the moment it occurs they've enjoyed something possibly not created by an adorable, towheaded child. They've invested so much in the prodigy image they can't see the still-beautiful product that remains. They are pederasts of an acceptable sort people who only wuv something as long as it comes from a certifiably "pure" source. Innocence-fetishizing Mrs. Lovejoys are always the first to condemn adults who might well be damaged former prodigies themselves. It's a microcosm of the hypocrisy that raises hysteria over mythically elevated levels of child sexual abuse, while caring little about those myriad ill-raised kids who end up welfare mothers or otherwise inconvenient adults.
MY KID COULD PAINT THAT
Opens Fri/12 in Bay Area theaters