The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story


1h 27m 1996

Brief Synopsis

A documentary on the life of Al Hirschfeld, the most famous, recognizable caricaturist of this century. Filmmaker Susan W. Dryfoos explores the 93-year old artist's life and career through a compilation of interviews with those who have been his subjects, insights from his late wife, Dolly Haas, pri

Film Details

Also Known As
Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story
MPAA Rating
Genre
Documentary
Release Date
1996
Distribution Company
C HILL

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 27m

Synopsis

A documentary on the life of Al Hirschfeld, the most famous, recognizable caricaturist of this century. Filmmaker Susan W. Dryfoos explores the 93-year old artist's life and career through a compilation of interviews with those who have been his subjects, insights from his late wife, Dolly Haas, priceless 1920's home movies, and commentary from Hirschfeld himself. In addition to delightful and quirky insights into Hirschfeld's personal life, the documentary shows him as a brilliant, highly intellectual, yet compassionate observer of humanity.

Film Details

Also Known As
Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story
MPAA Rating
Genre
Documentary
Release Date
1996
Distribution Company
C HILL

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 27m

Award Nominations

Best Documentary Feature

1996

Articles

The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story


You undoubtedly know Al Hirschfeld's work, even if you don't think you do. He's the caricaturist who, for 70 years, created deceptively simple drawings of assorted Broadway and Hollywood performers, most of which appeared in the Arts section of the Sunday New York Times. Hirschfeld's style consisted of sparse swoops and curves that over-accentuated the limbs, teeth, and bone-structures of everyone from Charlie Chaplin to David Letterman, with literally thousands of subjects in-between. Hirschfeld's joyous life and work is presented in Home Vision Entertainment's DVD release of The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story, an utterly engaging 1996 documentary directed by Susan Warms Dryfoos.

Hirschfeld's career couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Throughout The Line King, he's gentle and jovial, a stone-cold theater fanatic who stumbled upon an unexpected way to present Broadway's most electrifying personalities to people around the world. Hirschfeld seems to know that he was very lucky to have fallen into such a job. But his gift for getting at the heart of a human being through a few strokes of a pen transcended its own apparent effortlessness, turning what could have been an ongoing series of cute conversation pieces into a genuine art form.

Dryfoos traces (no pun intended) the development of that gift through interviews with Hirschfeld, his subjects, and his loyal wife and confidant, the former actress, Dolly Haas. The loving relationship between Haas and Hirschfeld is a wonderful thing to witness. It's also fun hearing the story behind Hirschfeld's "Nina" obsession. Connoisseurs of his work will know that it became something of a game over the years for Hirschfeld to secretly insert his daughter Nina's name into his drawings, with a number that he scribbled next to his signature telling you how often it appears. (If you've never looked for them before, focus on hairlines and wrinkled clothing. More often than not, you'll locate one or two "Nina's.")

At one point, the playwright and cartoonist, Jules Feiffer, compares Hirschfeld's work to Fred Astaire's dancing, and that's perfectly fitting. His drawings elegantly convey life and movement. The remarkable thing is just how often he hits the nail right on the head. Katherine Hepburn even laughingly mentions how horrifyingly accurate one drawing of her is. In it, Hepburn looks like an exceptionally shriveled version of herself, but that's what happens when you live as long as she did.

Unless, of course, you're Al Hirschfeld. What stands out the most about The Line King is Hirschfeld's remarkable buoyancy at an advanced age, a sure sign that his work kept him young. There's no doddering, no hemming and hawing in his recollections. In fact, if you didn't see him sitting in front of you, you might think he was 60 years old, as opposed to 95, and even then he looks about 30 years younger. His self-effacing sense of humor is apparent throughout the film, and he's something of a character himself. One of the more amusing anecdotes centers around the fact that he fashioned his pictures while sitting in an old-fashioned barber chair, which he considered the last "functional" chair ever made.

That sort of wistfulness for a bygone era is a moving subtext in The Line King. In an odd way, there's a sadness lying beneath Hirschfeld's journey, a longing for an America that found enjoyment in intelligence...and, very often, in intelligent simplicity. We lost more than a great cartoonist when Hirschfeld passed away. He was one of the final links to a time when we hoped to examine the better part of ourselves through entertainment. We may never return to that place again, and it's a heartbreaking thing.

Home Vision's disc isn't exactly loaded with extras, although the film itself is more than enough. There's a small gallery of drawings that one wishes was much, much larger, as well as footage of Hirschfeld doing a sketch of Paul Newman as he appeared on Broadway in Thornton Wilder's Our Town. There's also a pretty generous booklet that includes a piece that Richard F. Shepard wrote for The New York Times when Hirschfeld died. Even with the miniscule gallery, though, The Line King is a fine tribute to a spirited American original.

For more information about The Line King, visit Home Vision Entertainment. To order The Line King, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Tatara

The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story

The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story

You undoubtedly know Al Hirschfeld's work, even if you don't think you do. He's the caricaturist who, for 70 years, created deceptively simple drawings of assorted Broadway and Hollywood performers, most of which appeared in the Arts section of the Sunday New York Times. Hirschfeld's style consisted of sparse swoops and curves that over-accentuated the limbs, teeth, and bone-structures of everyone from Charlie Chaplin to David Letterman, with literally thousands of subjects in-between. Hirschfeld's joyous life and work is presented in Home Vision Entertainment's DVD release of The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story, an utterly engaging 1996 documentary directed by Susan Warms Dryfoos. Hirschfeld's career couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Throughout The Line King, he's gentle and jovial, a stone-cold theater fanatic who stumbled upon an unexpected way to present Broadway's most electrifying personalities to people around the world. Hirschfeld seems to know that he was very lucky to have fallen into such a job. But his gift for getting at the heart of a human being through a few strokes of a pen transcended its own apparent effortlessness, turning what could have been an ongoing series of cute conversation pieces into a genuine art form. Dryfoos traces (no pun intended) the development of that gift through interviews with Hirschfeld, his subjects, and his loyal wife and confidant, the former actress, Dolly Haas. The loving relationship between Haas and Hirschfeld is a wonderful thing to witness. It's also fun hearing the story behind Hirschfeld's "Nina" obsession. Connoisseurs of his work will know that it became something of a game over the years for Hirschfeld to secretly insert his daughter Nina's name into his drawings, with a number that he scribbled next to his signature telling you how often it appears. (If you've never looked for them before, focus on hairlines and wrinkled clothing. More often than not, you'll locate one or two "Nina's.") At one point, the playwright and cartoonist, Jules Feiffer, compares Hirschfeld's work to Fred Astaire's dancing, and that's perfectly fitting. His drawings elegantly convey life and movement. The remarkable thing is just how often he hits the nail right on the head. Katherine Hepburn even laughingly mentions how horrifyingly accurate one drawing of her is. In it, Hepburn looks like an exceptionally shriveled version of herself, but that's what happens when you live as long as she did. Unless, of course, you're Al Hirschfeld. What stands out the most about The Line King is Hirschfeld's remarkable buoyancy at an advanced age, a sure sign that his work kept him young. There's no doddering, no hemming and hawing in his recollections. In fact, if you didn't see him sitting in front of you, you might think he was 60 years old, as opposed to 95, and even then he looks about 30 years younger. His self-effacing sense of humor is apparent throughout the film, and he's something of a character himself. One of the more amusing anecdotes centers around the fact that he fashioned his pictures while sitting in an old-fashioned barber chair, which he considered the last "functional" chair ever made. That sort of wistfulness for a bygone era is a moving subtext in The Line King. In an odd way, there's a sadness lying beneath Hirschfeld's journey, a longing for an America that found enjoyment in intelligence...and, very often, in intelligent simplicity. We lost more than a great cartoonist when Hirschfeld passed away. He was one of the final links to a time when we hoped to examine the better part of ourselves through entertainment. We may never return to that place again, and it's a heartbreaking thing. Home Vision's disc isn't exactly loaded with extras, although the film itself is more than enough. There's a small gallery of drawings that one wishes was much, much larger, as well as footage of Hirschfeld doing a sketch of Paul Newman as he appeared on Broadway in Thornton Wilder's Our Town. There's also a pretty generous booklet that includes a piece that Richard F. Shepard wrote for The New York Times when Hirschfeld died. Even with the miniscule gallery, though, The Line King is a fine tribute to a spirited American original. For more information about The Line King, visit Home Vision Entertainment. To order The Line King, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Tatara

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States December 6, 1996

Released in United States Fall September 27, 1996

Released in United States on Video December 2, 1997

One-hour edited version broadcast in USA over PBS on "American Masters" January 6, 1999.

Released in United States Fall September 27, 1996

Released in United States on Video December 2, 1997

Released in United States December 6, 1996 (Los Angeles)