Review by Sean Boelman
One of the best things about art documentaries is that they offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their subjects’ artistic process, and Chuck Connelly Into the Light pulls back the curtain even more than most. Entertaining and fascinatingly raw, filmmaker Benjamin Schwartz has made something truly special here.
The film follows painter Chuck Connelly as he attempts to recover his career years after his struggles with alcoholism derailed his trajectory forever. There’s nothing new about telling the story of a reclusive artist, but this movie emphasizes the elements that make it stand out, namely his fall from grace and quest to rise back.
At under an hour and fifteen minutes in length, the film doesn’t waste any time. Schwartz explores both Connelly’s career and personal life, and the movie does a great job of balancing these threads. Yet despite the short runtime, it never feels like the film is pulling punches or failing to go into adequate depth.
There is a really powerful and inspiring message about redemption to be found in Connelly’s story, and this is likely what is going to resonate the most with viewers. Connelly has hit some very low lows in his lifetime, but this proves that people are able to come back from even the most seemingly insurmountable of odds with passion and dedication.
Connelly certainly isn’t a traditionally approachable subject, and as such, Schwartz has to represent him in a unique way. The first interview that opens the movie establishes Connelly’s anger in a way that is oddly endearing and charming. There is something inexplicably appealing about watching a disillusioned old man complain about the world.
Another part of what makes the film work so well is that it is genuinely funny. Obviously, Connelly’s personality is definitely a big contributor to this, but there are also some great anecdotes. In one of the best moments in the movie, Connelly recalls an interaction he had with filmmaker Martin Scorsese that ended quite humorously.
Like most art documentaries, this is a joy to look at because of how gorgeous Connelly’s artwork is. There is a sequence that follows Connelly and one of his pupils as they construct a painting from the bottom up, and the audience gets to see how the techniques and colors build on top of each other. It’s truly mesmerizing to watch in a way that few filmmakers are able to pull it off.
Chuck Connelly Into the Light is an impressive art documentary that presents its subject in a unique and humble way. It’s a fascinating story, and quite frankly, it’s a miracle that this story was even able to be captured in a film.
Chuck Connelly Into the Light is now streaming online as a part of the 2021 Florida Film Festival, which runs April 8-22 in Orlando, FL.