The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story

on September 27, 1996 by Lea Russo
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   With the few strokes of a pencil, caricaturist Al Hirschfeld can do in minutes what filmmakers, writers, and painters spend months trying to create--he captures the essence of his subjects, rather than their likeness. It's too bad that Susan Dryfoos' documentary "The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story" isn't quite as insightful. But, of course, she did have a lot of ground to cover. Looking back over the past eight decades of Hirschfeld's work, "The Line King" views like a "who's who" of entertainers, displaying hundreds of vivid caricatures of everyone from Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich to Katharine Hepburn, Joan Collins and Woody Allen. In between the parade of drawings, Hirschfeld reminisces about his early days in Paris, his marriage to European actress Dolly Haas and his work for The New York Times. Filmmaker Dryfoos also includes Hirschfeld's old home-movie footage and interviews with his former colleagues to help re-create days long gone. Yet, because time is so compressed in the film, "The Line King" becomes a light dance over the past. Names, faces and eras whiz by, revealing fleeting glimpses of personality. Yet the film has little depth, as Dryfoos relies on Hirschfeld's work to carry the show. Although the drawings are fascinating in their accuracy, they're not enough to sustain an entire film. Indeed, "The Line King" is much like one of Hirschfeld's caricatures--it sparks a smile, and sometimes a laugh, but only reveals what it wants you to see. Directed by Susan W. Dryfoos. Written by Susan W. Dryfoos. Produced by Susan W. Dryfoos. A Castle Hill release. Documentary. Running time: 86 min.
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