The Metropolitan Museum in New York City indexes four entries under the name Robert De Niro. The information recorded is not about the Oscar-winning actor and director, but rather about his father, the artist. Thanks to a recently released HBO documentary “Remembering the Artist, Robert De Niro Sr.” we now know a lot more about his fascinating life.
Robert (Jr.) had a desire to preserve and rectify the truth about his father’s legacy as an artist, as well as his struggles as a gay man, and as such, produced this highly evocative documentary film. I believe we are privileged as a public viewing audience to see such a personal tribute.
De Niro had a complex relationship with his father. After his parents separated when he was two and finally divorced when he was nine or ten, he rarely saw him. “I was not aware, much, of it [his father being gay]. I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age,” De Niro said during an interview in Out Magazine.
During his teens he would listen to his father rant about the injustices of the art world and the difficulty artists had in selling their work. “Artists are always recognized after they’re long gone,” says De Niro in the film’s trailer.
However brief his fame as an artist in the 1940’s and 50’s might have been, De Niro, Sr. was exhibited alongside Jackson Pollock by Peggy Guggenheim, and as a result, the impact his life and his artwork left on his son was powerful. Consequently, De Niro Jr. preserved his father’s SoHo studio much as it was, with paintings on the wall, books, and exhibition posters, as a personal tribute to his descendants.
Preserving his father’s legacy
“When he passed away I thought, well, I should keep it,” De Niro says in an interview with FT.com “because it’s a very special place, and also for my grandchildren and for my young kids, who never knew him. I wanted them to see what their grandfather did, what their great-grandfather did. And this is the best way.”
To get to know his father better and further immortalize the truth of his father’s life and its’ meaning, De Niro Jr. created Remembering the Artist – Robert De Niro Sr. His life and struggles are explored through old journal entries and photographs, as well as interviews of those close to him.
It was something De Niro Jr. always felt should be done. “I should have done this ten years earlier, but I’m glad I did it now.” In fact ten years ago he was interviewed in Esquire Magazine, and was quoted as saying that one of his biggest regrets in life was not getting enough of his parent’s stories recorded for his children and grandchildren. Now he can be proud of this accomplishment.
As we see in the De Niro family, many personal journeys are sometimes difficult. That is why recording the triumphs and challenges of life experiences, and the wisdom gained, is so vital to a family’s history. Through journal entries and video recordings gathered to preserve it, we can get to know family members more intimately. The result will be lifestories and wisdom to cherish leading us to a better understanding of our own heritage.
Kudos to Robert De Niro Jr. for getting it done!