“#Loving Vincent,” a new animated feature film about #Van Gogh, got a thumbs-down from British art critic Jonathan Jones. He called it a “kitsch parody.” My thumb goes in the opposite direction for what the film tries to do: track the unfolding of paintings as the artist worked on them.
To accomplish this feat, the film creates the illusion of his brushwork in motion. To pull this off, 115 artists were hired to paint 62,450 pictures, including 94 re-creations of Van Gogh’s actual works.
Re-enacting the making of art takes careful study worthy of praise, not a put-down.
Van Gogh, the wordsmith
So far only a trailer is available for viewing. Even so, Jones knocks the script as novelized. I’ll side with Jones on that point if the dialogue throughout the movie disregards Van Gogh’s way of thinking, which he made so clear in the many letters he wrote to his brother Theo.
Certainly fictionalizing isn’t necessary when we have Vincent telling Theo about his loneliness. Like this: “There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke coming through the chimney and go along their way.” (In his next life, he ought to turn to writing, don’t you think?)
As I see it, demonstrating how a painting comes together in real-time redeems the dialog inventions that Jones plans.
He believes that sequencing the artist’s brushstrokes ignores his artistic struggle for the sake of our entertainment. He calls this “Disneyfied.” Well, if he wants to talk about vulgarizing Van Gogh, he should consider the Vincent Village in Amsterdam, Holland, which gives center stage to boutiques that hawk things like wine under the label Vincent Extra Brut Cava. Now that’s Disneyfied.
Hate-speech against artists
And if you want to talk about a movie that turned Van Gogh into a cartoon, consider Kirk Douglas' crazy-as-a-loon portrayal in the biopic "Lust for Life." He played the artist attacking his canvas the way he did Spartacus in the slave uprising against the Romans – with savagery.
There was zero sense of how hard the painter worked each day, how disciplined he must have been to turn out some 300 museum-worthy paintings and three dozen self-portraits. And if you think that “Loving Vincent” ignores his artistic struggle, consider something written by Washington Post columnist Henry Mitchell after the artist broke a sales record at 1990 auction.
“The gall of some painters,” he said. “They point out that Vincent van Gogh never had two dimes to rub together and here one of his pictures has just been sold for $82.5 million.” Then, launching into his art hate-speech, he said that painters sleep and eat when they feel like it and sell a picture for millions. “All they have to do is convince some idiot it’s worth it. “Loving Vincent” is a Valentine next to that dribble.