"Until the Last Stroke," a chatty visit with three elderly artists that WETA (Channel 26) will show tonight at 10:30, raises ample curiosity about these artists but unfortunately only explores a few aspects of their lives.
Painter Richard Dempsey, poet May Miller and folk singer Flora Moton are superb craftsmen and interesting characters, and all worthy of individual documentaries, so producer Joy Shannon must have felt frustrated at her 30-minute constraint.
The three, black artists who are internationally known, discuss turning points in their lives. Miller speaks of how she needed a platform after years of teaching, so she turned full time to poetry. Dempsey recalls coming to Washington in 1942 from California and having to confront segregation and cold weather. Moton, who is best known for her sidewalk concerts outside Woodward & Lothrop at Metro Center, remembers hearing guitar players in her girlhood Virginia play with knives and wanting to make that sound.
Though they have different media, the members of this trio have responded to events around them. Speaking of discrimination, Dempsey says, "If I get angry, I would make a portrait," and he speaks of the outrage he felt after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and how he painted a series in red. Miller quietly reads a poem she wrote after four girls were killed in the bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., church in 1963. And, while vivid photographs of the Vietnam War flash by, Moton sings a song she wrote about that time.
What is missing are in-depth responses about how they manage their lives now as they grow older -- their exact ages aren't given. Since Moton works outdoors for the most part, what is the coldest weather she can play in? What is their legacy and how do they feel about younger artists?
And, maybe the title should have been rethought. At the beginning Dempsey's strong hand illustrates that the stroke of the brush -- or pen or finger -- is the intention of the title but it may be too cute.