Gene Wilder and Frida Kahlo in Their Own Words (for Better and Worse)

Famous artists are a favorite subject for documentaries right now — probably because people love to watch them. And there are a lot of different ways to tell the story of someone’s life; the more famous they were, the more tools at the filmmaker’s fingertips.

Take, for instance, the new documentary “Remembering Gene Wilder,” a uniformly affectionate look at the life and work of the comic actor who died in 2016. (The film opens in theaters in New York on Friday, followed by a national expansion.) Though he did perform onstage, Wilder’s most memorable work was in films like “The Producers,” “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles.”

Clips from those films and many others are combined with reflections from many of Wilder’s friends and colleagues, including his frequent collaborator Mel Brooks, Alan Alda, Carol Kane, Richard Pryor’s daughter Rain Pryor and Wilder’s widow, Karen Boyer. Pictures from Wilder’s youth and home video round out a portrait of a man whom everyone describes as gentle, innocent, kind, more or less saintly — and, of course, absolutely hilarious.

There’s a danger to this kind of movie, in that viewers get the sense that they’re getting the whole story even though selection bias is inevitably at work. (“Remembering Gene Wilder” mentions only two of Wilder’s four wives, for instance, and judging from the 2018 documentary “Love, Gilda” — about his third wife, the comedian Gilda Radner — there’s a great deal of story left untold.) But the filmmakers made the smart choice to weave narration from the audiobook of Wilder’s memoir into the narrative, drawing the audience closer by giving the sense that we’re hearing the story straight from him.

That’s also the technique at work in Carla Gutiérrez’s new documentary, “Frida” (on Prime Video), about the painter Frida Kahlo (1907-54). Her story has been told before, of course. But Kahlo kept copious, frank diaries about her life, her thoughts and her desires in diaries, and her artwork is highly personal. The actress Fernanda Echevarría reads from Kahlo’s journals and letters (in Spanish and English, depending on the language in which they were written), with occasional input from others close to Kahlo.

The effect is immediate and personal, as if Kahlo is sitting right there with you, being funny and passionate and scathing and vulnerable. Gutiérrez uses archival footage of Kahlo, as well as paintings that are often animated, as if you’re seeing them come to life the way Kahlo might have in her mind’s eye. The result feels more raw and unfiltered than the one in “Remembering Gene Wilder,” more private and revelatory. But Kahlo always presented herself as a woman painting outside the lines, so it’s only appropriate that a movie about her would, too.

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