At Myrna Loy
To properly appreciate the film “Loving Vincent,” a labor of love honoring the life of Vincent van Gogh, we first need to hop aboard SAS airlines and head to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is a thoroughly seductive city full of flowers, bicycles, “coffee shops” and brothels. But, for me, the Dutch memory that lingers longest consists of the hours spent wandering through the Van Gogh Museum.
Vincent Willem van Gogh was a Dutch painter who created more than 2,000 paintings, but sold only one during his lifetime. He’s known for his brilliant colors, but his own life’s palette was much darker. He spent some time in a mental ward after cutting off his own ear.
Van Gogh started painting at 28 and died young, at 37, of an apparent suicide, although the circumstances surrounding his death remain a bit of a Dutch mystery to this day.
The story of his life was captured in Don McLean’s haunting four-minute classic, “Starry Starry Night” aka “Vincent":
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
They did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now.
The art world is most indeed listening how. Some of Van Gogh’s works are worth more than $50 million at auction.
Later generations have applauded the man who worked in vibrant colors, but who struggled for his sanity.
The Van Gogh Museum traces his life through words and paintings. The museum displays the largest collection of Van Gogh art in the world, some 250 works in its permanent collection. The paintings are choreographed to tell the story of his short life -- some paintings show a joyful artist, others a deeply depressed man.
It’s easy to fall in love with Vincent, while musing through the museum, located in Amsterdam’s Museumplein, a public art space containing three museums and a concert hall.
But Polish painter Dorota Kobiela fell in love with Van Gogh mostly through his letters, many of which detailed his battles with depression.
“I have battled with depression all my life,” said Kobiela, “and I was inspired by how strong Vincent was in picking himself up from similarly terrible life setbacks as a young man in his twenties, and finding, through art, a way to bring beauty to the world. His letters helped me at a low point in my life, and inspired me to make this film.”
Kobiela and her husband Hugh Welchman set out to create a film that honored the memory of Van Gogh in the most authentic way possible: by shooting a film of some 65,000 frames with actors. Then, after shooting ended, hiring 125 classically trained painters to repaint -- on canvas! -- each of the 65,000 frames in the style of Van Gogh.
Often paintings of Van Gogh such as like “The Starry Night” and “Cafe Terrace at Night” form the backdrop/inspiration for an entire painted scene. The painters had Van Gogh paintings hanging above their canvas as they worked to transform the filmed “first draft” into a painted movie.
The result is a glorious work of art which is, from first frame to last, an act of love.
The script is structured as a mystery about Van Gogh’s death. Did he commit suicide? Or was he murdered? Or shot accidentally? The mystery has historical roots, but the story hardly matters: “Loving Vincent” is about the brushstrokes, more than about the life and death of Vincent van Gogh.
The actors include Saoirse Ronan who is wonderful as the daughter of Van Gogh’s doctor who befriends the painter. The painters who transformed Ronan into impressionistic brushstrokes were clearly inspired both by Saoirse and by Van Gogh.
The ending includes, of course, a lovely version of McLean’s “Starry Starry Night” while the credits roll. Those credits themselves are stunning, featuring the cast next to painted versions of themselves in a storybook whose pages slowly turn.
Most critics have loved the film, but some called the film a gimmick, while others said that it’s mostly style with too little substance.
I’m so sorry those bah-humbug moviegoers couldn’t willingly set aside their disbelief long enough to be swept away into “Loving Vincent.” Visual moviegoers who loved “Phantom Thread” must see “Loving Vincent.”
Let’s let Don McLean take us home.
And when no hope was left in sight on that starry
You took your life
As lovers often do;
But I could have told you
This world was never
Meant for one
As beautiful as you.