Altina Schinasi (1907-1999) was lucky enough to be born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. The youngest of three girls, her parents were Sephardic Jews of humble origin who immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey in the late 19th Century.
Thanks to the tobacco fortune soon amassed by their industrious father, the sisters were raised in the lap of luxury on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Although headstrong Altina wanted for nothing, she proved to be something of a rebel, opting to study art in Paris after graduating from a prestigious prep school, rather than follow the conventional path of a pampered debutante.
That was just the first of many unorthodox choices on the part of the free-spirited trendsetter en route to making her mark on the world not only as an artist and inventor, but as a feminist and civil rights advocate who would march with Dr. Martin Luther King. She was also a bit of a Bohemian in terms of her private affairs, being admittedly driven by insatiable urges stronger than the societal taboo against adultery.
Tawdry scandals aside, Altina accepted four proposals of marriage over the course of her life, the last from the Cuban artist Tino Miranda, a handsome hunk less than half her age. Though then well into her golden years, she had her Latin lover marveling at her “stamina of a 25 year-old.”
Besides a healthy libido, Altina was perhaps best known for designing the harlequin eyeglass frame, a cultural contribution for which she won the 1939 American Design Award. Still, the talented Renaissance woman‘s accolades for her innovations and sculptures brought her less satisfaction than doting on her two sons, Dennis and Terry.
All of the above is recounted in entertaining fashion in Altina, a reverential biopic directed by Peter Sanders (The Disappeared). The fascinating documentary’s only flaw is that it leaves you wanting to learn more about its intriguing subject.
A frustrating tease of a tribute that seems to merely scratch the surface of an overprotected child of privilege-turned-irrepressible bon vivant.
Very Good (3 stars)
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 80 minutes
Distributor: First Run Features