Robert De Niro's Gay Artist Father Topic of HBO Documentary

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Wednesday, 28 May 2014 10:12 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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Actor Robert De Niro is bringing the spotlight to his father, Robert De Niro Sr., as the subject of a new HBO documentary celebrating the painter’s life in all its facets — as a father, artist, and a gay man who was out in an era when most were not.

"To me, he was always a great artist," the younger De Niro said in an interview with Out Magazine. "It was the only way to keep his being, his existence alive," he said of the new documentary, "Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr.," which premieres June 9 on HBO.

The senior De Niro died over 20 years ago from cancer, but his son has kept his memory alive by maintaining his SoHo apartment in Manhattan largely untouched.

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"I’ve brought people here over the years. I’ve had a reception or two here. When I thought I was going to have to let it go, three or four years ago, I videotaped it and had photos taken and documented everything. But then I said, 'I just can’t do it,'" he told the magazine.

"It’s a different experience when you’re here than when you see it in photos. I did it for the grandkids and my young kids, who didn’t know their grandfather."

In the documentary, De Niro chronicles his father’s painterly work and reads extensively from his father’s diaries, which illuminate the character of New York in that era.

He said he knew he wanted to make the documentary, and originally thought it might be a family project that he could show his kids.

"I had footage from a guy who used to follow my father around in the ’70s. We started with that. I bought it from him and gave the footage to Thelma Schoonmaker, who was Marty Scorsese’s editor. I asked her what she could do with it, and she assembled it and put it together — it was falling apart," he said, explaining how the project developed one step at a time.

Among the paintings De Niro showcases in the film, including one of his favorites, "Venice by Night," he also shows off the portraits his father did of his son and daughter, commenting that he wishes he would have sat down himself to be immortalized.

Speaking about his father’s homosexuality, De Niro said that he was likely conflicted about it, "being from that generation, especially from a small town upstate."

He said that growing up he "was not aware, much, of it." 

"I wish we had spoken about it much more," he continued. "My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age. Again, for my kids, I want them to stop and take a moment and realize that you sometimes have to do things now instead of later, because later may be 20 years from now — and that’s too late," he explained. 

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