Van Gogh brush with genius

Van Gogh brush with genius plastic arts titles and documentary about the trajectory of Van Gogh's career as a painter.  This 40 minute film, with good shots of 41 paintings,  was made for showing in IMAX theaters. In addition to the movie, there is a 20-minute "Making of" documentary and  a "Van Gogh Art" slide show with still shots of 25 of the 41 paintings. The main film was directed by François Bertrand based an original idea from Peter Knapp; book by Marie Seller; original music by Armand Amar; director of photography was Vincent Mathias;  film presented by Macgillivray Freeman Films, a company that has made many IMAX action movies. Released 2010, disc has dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. Grade: B

Lets discuss the bad, the good, and the beautiful aspects of this title.

The bad is that this was originally made to be shown in IMAX theaters on their special giant surround screens. The audience at these theaters doesn't consist of fine-arts lovers---it's families on vacation with kids. The usual IMAX subjects are jet fighters, race cars, volcanoes, collapsed civilizations, and crocodiles. It took a lot of guts for the IMAX folks to try a show about the art of a single impressionist painter. So how do you jazz up this subject to hold short attention spans? Well, try time-lapse photography of the Paris d'Orsay museum looking like a hive with human bees and the Seine looking like an amusement park ride. For most of his life, Van Gogh did only 4 things: eat, sleep, paint, and write letters to his brother, the successful art dealer. So why not introduce a sub story about a beautiful young female art historian reading Van Gogh letters which then speak to her in Van Gogh's voice?

IMAX shows start off short, so action scenes threaten to cut rather painfully into the time available to contemplate paintings. Another fault I note is that Van Gogh speaks in voice-over in the film in English, but with a heavy accent that can make it hard to understand what he's saying. If you're going to have Van Gogh speaking English, why not give him an authentic accent? And if you insist on presenting English with a foreign accent, then please also furnish subtitles. Have some mercy on English speakers who are hard-of-hearing. And don't forget your other customers for whom English is not a native language and for whom an artificial accent will be a serious obstruction.

Now lets look at the good: after about 5 years since HDVDs were born, we finally get a title applying the radiance of high-definition TV to famous paintings. This is not an academic film, and the paintings are not identified. But the action scenes together with numerous glowing landscape and location shots show us the desperation and glory of Van Gogh's career and get across its premise: Van Gogh wasn't crazy, but he did maybe suffer from that mental disorder that sometimes causes geniuses to work themselves to death (think Mozart).

And now we get to the beautiful. This film shows convincingly that HDVD images of fine-art paintings are  gorgeous and compelling far beyond anything that can be printed in books. I've seen a good number of Van Gogh paintings hanging on walls. The TV image isn't the same as being there. But it's pretty close,  and it can't do anything except make you want to get on an airplane and visit some museums.

Shot with with state-of-the-art movie film equipment at 24 frames per second, this title is technically impressive. I believe the colors are accurately rendered on my TV display, and the video is an good as anything I have seen in IMAX or anywhere else. The award-winning background music comes over beautifully in 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.

At this point I have a good orientation to the painting career of Van Gogh.  What I would like to see next would be a curated title with several hundred Van Gogh works displayed full screen and with lots of close ups. For this to happen the museums will have to work together to make the content available for shooting.  Some people suggest that the museums will never do this for fear of abuse of the high-definition images. But as suggested already, I don't think one can "pirate" an oil painting to a TV screen. I do think that publishing HDVD images of paintings will increase demand from consumers to see the real thing.

To sum up, this is a very nice if somewhat light-weight title that would have special appeal to kids or younger art students, and I give it a solid "B" grade.