Starry, Starry Night – Loving Vincent
Sometime, in the distant past, nineteen seventy- four to be exact, when I had long hair, a patchwork jacket and not much else, I decided to hitch hike from my hometown in the industrial heartland of the English Black Country to the beautiful city of Amsterdam. All I knew of Holland was, it was very flat, there were lots of canals, windmills, tulips and it was the birthplace of Vincent Willem Van Gogh.
I had very little money and no plan! Like many other young men and women at that time, I was twenty years old, I slept under the stars in Vondel Park, right in the centre of Amsterdam. During the flower power era, the park had become a symbol of, `where everything is possible and almost everything was allowed`.
It was a carefree existence, I had left my secondary modern school, five years earlier with one CSE qualification, a grade one in History and had spent the intervening years working in a succession of dead-end jobs, everything from cutting grass for the parks department, electro-plating, a setter in a brick works to foundry clerk. I had seventeen jobs in just five years and desperately needed some direction in my life.
I didn`t travel to Holland with the intention of visiting a multitude of tourist sites, I was looking for adventure, to meet new people, listen to live music, drink beer in crowded smoky bars and if lucky, meet some girls!
After a couple of days in Amsterdam, I decided to go and visit the Van Gogh Museum, which had opened the year before. It has since become the second most popular museum in the Netherlands, after the Rijksmuseum, consistently welcoming more than 1.5 million visitors a year. In 2015 it welcomed a record 1.9 million visitors; 85 percent of the visitors coming from outside of Holland. The Museum has the largest Van Gogh collection in the world, containing 200 paintings, 400 drawings and 700 of his letters.
I had been to Art School as a part time student, to complete my A level Art and had become captivated, not only by the works of Vincent, but by the man himself. I had read, Irving Stone`s book, `Lust for life` which had been made into a film, starring Kirk Douglas as the Dutch master and had even taken out a book from the library, containing several hundred of Vincent`s letters, written to his brother Theo.
The Van Gogh Museum was a wonderful building in which to showcase some of the best of his work. I still remember how light it was, with long wooden tables running down the centre of several of the rooms, full of people drawing and colouring in their versions of the art, which hung all around them on the walls. I was enthralled and awe -struck by the paintings, characterised by bright bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brush strokes.
In just over ten years Vincent produced over 860 oil paintings, astonishing, many of them in the last two years of his life. They included landscapes, still life’s, portraits and over forty – three self-portraits.With all of this in mind, I recently went to see `Loving Vincent`, a melancholic yet moving account of Vincent`s final weeks, before his death in 1890, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, or was it?
The film is being marketed as the first-ever fully painted feature movie, threading together the portraits and landscapes of Van Gogh’s art works with that of 65,000 hand-painted frames of live-action footage of real actors. It took 125 assorted artists and animators six years to paint and make up 120 of Van Gogh’s now familiar works of art, which feature in the film.
The film took the form of a detective story, questioning whether Van Gogh actually committed suicide or was shot by someone else! The artists technique provides a distinctive vitality to his colourful representations of the French landscape and portraits of friends and associates.
It was powerfully compulsive to watch as Van Gogh’s familiar stars beam out in the night time skies, trembling halos float around the tops of candles, a river throbs with rolling blue waves, rain falls from the sky vertically like strips of spaghetti in tinges of black and grey, whilst golden wheat blows easily in the fields.
Bursts of kinetic energy quiver in nearly every scene, as if the screen were moving. At times it was difficult to watch, but this electrifying surge is more than just dressing up the scene. It captured the very reason why Van Gogh devoted every minute of the last ten years of his short life to his passion, his painting. His painting was all he lived for!
Assuming the role of sleuth and narrator is Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a disagreeable young man in a brilliant canary-yellow jacket, who has a weakness for alcohol and bar room scuffles. A year after the artist’s death, he is told by his postmaster father (Chris O’Dowd) to deliver Vincent’s final letter to his beloved younger brother, Theo.
Armand heads to Paris, where he learns from paint dealer Pere Tanguy (John Sessions) that Theo had himself died, just six months after his brother Vincent. Tanguy also explains to Armand how Vincent had become a prolific painter of real quality.
With fresh admiration and renewed interest for Van Gogh, Armand takes off to the charming picturesque village of Auvers-sur-Oise and begins to seek out and question those who knew Vincent during his last six weeks on earth. The strong -willed innkeeper’s daughter, Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson of Poldark fame), speaks kindly of Vincent but Louise Chevalier (Helen McCrory), the religious housekeeper to Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn), the doctor who treated Vincent, tells Armand that, “He was evil.”
It is also suggested that Vincent may have had an argument with Dr. Gachet, over his daughter, Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan), who may have been romantically associated with Van Gogh. Each person offers widely differing views of the artist and I was left reflecting on all that had been said, questioning whether he had indeed shot himself! Viewers are left to make up their own minds about what may have happened on that fateful day.
The artist himself is shown very rarely, usually in brooding black-and-white recollections, acted by Polish look-alike Robert Gulaczyk. Helping to set the right melancholic mood are some stirring strings and piano notes throughout.
A beautiful and moving version of Don McLean`s memorable “Starry, Starry Night” sung by Lianne La Havas, was fittingly played during the end credits, to see the film out.
A cinematic masterpiece. A real triumph.
CREDIT: Photographs courtesy of AudioVisual Technology, Producers of Loving Vincent and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
Loving VincentThe world’s first fully oil painted feature film, brings the artwork of Vincent van Gogh to life in an exploration of the complicated life and controversial death of one of history’s most celebrated artists.