VINCENT: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF VINCENT VAN GOGH
(director/writer: Paul Cox; cinematographer: Paul Cox; editor: Paul Cox; music: Norman Kaye; cast: John Hurt (Narrator); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tony Llewellyn-Jones; New Video; 1987-Australia)
“It’s an unforgettable film experience from an artist who understands and appreciates the artist he’s depicting.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is a truly one of a kind, brilliant documentary by Paul Cox (“Kostas”/”Cactus”/”Lonely Hearts”). It’s ingenious, gripping and an unclassifiable special documentary on the last ten years in the life of tortured Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), who created some 1,800 paintings in his lifetime but only managed to sell one when alive despite having a brother who was an art dealer in Paris.
The unrecognized at the time genius artist was thought to be a madman for living such a solitary and impoverished life, having no station in life after his attempt to be an evangelical clergyman failed, for slicing off part of his own ear in a moment of utter despair, for his stay in an asylum in St.-Remy, and for committing suicide by shooting himself at age 37. This moving tribute film debunks that madman myth and shows the artist struggling to find himself, his mysticism, his need to be of use in this world and how arduously he dedicated himself to his craft.
It’s narrated with deep conviction by Brit actor John Hurt, as he reads from van Gogh’s highly moving, intelligent and descriptive letters to his younger brother Theo that cover his mundane worries, his loneliness, his willingness to marry a prostitute pregnant with a child that is not his because of Christian kindness, his religious convictions, his love for painting and his philosophy of life. In the background accompanying Hurt’s passionate readings are scenes re-enacted from the artist’s life and vivid images of the windmills of Holland, lush fields, trees, birds in flight, sunflowers and many of the artist’s paintings.
From his life among the peasants Vincent paints “The Potato Eaters,” as he tries to contrast their life of manual labor as being real compared to the city people’s bourgeois artificial existence. Vincent moved to Paris to study the Impressionists then to Arles, in the south of France, where he painted his masterpieces “The Sunflowers” and “The Harvest.” He writes ”How lovely yellow is!”, that one of the great things is to paint darkness and capture the light in it, and that people become mediocre by constantly making compromises and always following public opinion.
It’s an unforgettable film experience from an artist who understands and appreciates the artist he’s depicting.
REVIEWED ON 8/27/2007 GRADE: A+