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Degas, Degas, Bazille - oh my...!
Acorn Media / 239 Minutes / 2011 / Unrated / Street Date: September 18, 2012
One certainly knows what to expect with this latest release from Acorn Media's Athena arm - Understanding Art: Impressionism is a four-part classroom-in-a-DVD-sleeve endeavor that aims to provide an overview of impressionism's inception, process, and cultural reputation. There certainly is a lot of material to sift through on this compilation - only the hyper-intrigued will make it through episode one, The Gang of Four - but as a scholastic tool, Understanding Art is invaluable.
The issue, though, is that while the filmmaking here is legitimate, Understanding Art: Impressionism's technical acuity is not. Home theater geeks have bemoaned the death of standard-def for a while now, and sub-par releases like this one feel like nails in its coffin. The irony of exhibiting some of the grandest aesthetic achievements ever concocted by human hands with average-at-best video quality will not be lost on most who investigate this release: if you watch, you will ask yourself why the show doesn't look better.
But guys like us will rant and rave about technical slip-ups whether studios like Acorn Media doing anything about it or not. All moaning and groaning aside, Understanding Art: Impressionism is informative and often truly illuminating. It's not exactly a thrill ride, but there's a reason these names - Renoir, Monet, Seurat - are still part of our collective artistic conversation.