Movie Review: A Beauty of a Painting Movie Called “Van Gogh: A Brush with Genius”

This documentary is unusual as it provides a rare and exciting opportunity to examine Vincent Van Gogh’s artwork up close. Its design is novel, having van Gough speak about his paintings which as we see further are words from his correspondence with his brother Theo. His gallery operating brother supported him for most of his life and appreciated his paintings though realized they would not have a market value. Wow did that change. But van Gogh got nothing for his paintings while alive. This documentary also retraces the artist’s footsteps, guiding us through the places that inspired him and his brilliant, vividly colored paintings.

We saw many of his painting years ago when some were on display in the Los Angelus county library. The crowds were so dense it was hard to get up close to see any details. But in this movie the maker actually goes to many places where paintings were produced showing the settings and simultaneously one hears van Gogh’s words written at the time of making the painting. I always wondered about the comments about his brush with mental disease but I left with the feeling that it was overblown over the cutting of the ear. He mentions that he stayed on at the mental institute because it was the cheapest place around where he could live.

I learned some more about the use of color, particularly the use of complements which I really never understood. There are two that still stay in my mind. One is of a rose with a light green background which demonstrates how the red stands out more with the green background. The other is of the large circular sun as if drawn with receding concentric circles. Most of his paintings were small which surprised me when we saw them in Los Angeles. But with a good camera and really close up and then by comparison to the actual settings the real genius comes out. The movie by the great Kurosawa, Ran (actually 8 short movies exploring environmental ideas) also has a segment showing his paintings with actual visits into some paintings. This is stunning.

The Netflix categorizes the movie as Cerebral. I assume this is because it shows an actress reading his letters to Theo while in a museum that was created to hold his drawings in Holland. Plus we get to see the author, writer, producer as he works the camera. The movie doesn’t seem to be a documentary but a work of art as well. Its silly to compare it to those history channel shams which are like Readers Digest abstract with poor programming and repeated use of the same screens.

Maybe cerebral in this context means its combined use of written historical documents, the paintings and the places. One just wants to visit southern France and paint, paint, paint, as John Robinson, the ocean painting teacher who recently died up in Mendocino, California, always repeated to his students.

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