Vincent Van Gogh


Vincent Van Gogh plastic arts title and documentary about the work and life of Vincent van Gogh.  Eline Timmer directs the main film showing about 100 paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as well as images of famous paintings located in other museums around the world. The film is has interviews in which art history experts discuss in detail each stage in van Gogh's life and of his development as artist. A bonus feature explains what happened to the paintings van Gogh left at his death and why some 200 of the best paintings are still in two museums in Holland. Released in 2011, title was shot with digital cameras in "Full HD 1080P" at 30 fps; disc has  5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Grade: A-

When I first stumbled onto this title on I thought, "This must be another one of those van Gogh dramas about paid love and missing body parts." But something told me to buy it anyway. It turned out to be what we have been waiting for for 5 years (since the first fine-art HDVD was published): a serious treatment in high-definition TV of a large number of paintings and drawings expertly discussed by art historians. This is a milestone for fine-art HDVD fans, and I found it by accident! Well, it's a milestone for folks who have a good command of either Dutch or English (more later about the language problem with this disc.)

There are 3 segments on this title. The main program lasts 135 minutes and is called Vincent van Gogh Een leven voor de kunst or Vincent van Gogh, A Life for Art. There is an extra that lasts 15 minutes called Van Goghs roem zijn tweede leven or Van Gogh's Fame---His Second Life. Finally, there is a Picture Gallery that displays 14 paintings.

The main program divides van Gogh's life in 5 periods. The full resources of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam are exploited for each period. You see wonderful shots of numerous painting and drawings, historical pictures, excepts from letters, and the like as well as great high-def videos showing today many locations and buildings that van Gogh knew. What you see is explained in voice-over narration and via numerous short interviews with the experts from the Van Gogh Museum. The material is quite detailed and absorbing---the 2 hours and 14 minutes goes by fast. The main program ends with Vincent's death.

Most or all of Van Gogh's most popular paintings are shown in this title, but I will not bore you with screen shots of many of them. The real benefit from this title is it's depiction of the breadth of the 800+ paintings Van Gogh left. Quite a few early works are shown, which tend to be dark and crude-looking views of the lives of farmers and workers. When Vincent moved to Paris, he started using more color as in this floral still life:


The film gives you many opportunities to compare Vincent's oil paintings to photographs of what Vincent was actually seeing from his easel.  For example, here is a old photo of the "Yellow House" in Arles where Vincent tried to set up an artists' commune:


And here is the painting Vincent made of the exterior:


And here is a painting of Vincent's bedroom. It appears he had a double bed, but I don't think he often had anyone with which to share the room:


Here's the famous cafe:

And here's why it's famous:

Vincent always painted something he saw right before him. Mother nature was his most cooperative model:

The trees were patient and charged no fees:

Although the film is clinical in approach, it's nevertheless a deeply poignant and sad document about a brilliant but utterly lonely life. Here is the asylum where Vincent was last treated for mental illness:

And here's what is looks like now:

The bonus extra about Vincent's "second life" deals with what happened after Vincent died. Vincent long had been supported by his brother, Theo, who was an art dealer. Vincent had circle of admirers, mostly other avant-garde artists, who believed that he would one day be recognized broadly as a great artist. But right at the time when Vincent's work was starting to get the attention he deserved, Vincent shot himself.

Theo inherited a large number of  paintings and drawings. But then Theo died just a few months after Vincent! There is a famous photo of Jo, Theo's wife, with her baby son in her lap. Jo, and later the boy, worked for decades to keep together the works that are now at the Van Gogh Museum. Still, many paintings were given away or sold over the years. About 100 were collected by Helena Kroller-Muller, and this collection is now in a museum at Otterlo in Holland.

If you speak Dutch or English, this is an excellent title that will give you a fine introduction to van Gogh. But what's the problem with the other languages? The show uses voice-overs to narrate some of the visual material. The voice-overs are provided in Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. But some of the program is also conveyed through interviews with the art experts. These folks speak in Dutch. Only English voice-overs and subtitles are given for the interviews. There is no voice-over for the interviews in other languages. So if Spanish, French, German, or Italian is your only European language, you will probably be happy with the voice-over narration, but you will not benefit from the interviews. But hang onto your hat! If you can read Chinese or Simplified Chinese, turn on those sub-titles. Then you will have a nice written translation for both the narration and the interviews. What's going on here? Did the publisher assume that anyone who knows German, French, Spanish, or Italian also must know English? Or is there supposed to be a voice-over for the interviews in German, French, Spanish, or Italian which somehow got dropped by mistake in post-production? Or maybe those languages are on the disc as voice-overs for the interviews, but don't play due to a disc manufacturing error? Or could it be that I don't know how to make the disc work right? (Is your head spinning?)

This disc sports excellent PQ in 1080p. Still, I do see severe motion artifacts, which I think is called "judder," on my system when the camera pans a stationary object. Also with my old LCD TV display, I got strange artifacts with images of any object with a lot of fine parallel lines close together; for an example, see the drawing at 03:09 of the main program. My old display could not maintain the lines correctly. They would "shimmer" or jump around extravagantly. But with my new plasma display, almost all of the shimmer is gone and the picture is fine except for the judder I mentioned. (I suspect the judder comes from poor handling of frame rate somewhere along the line as this film made its way from the camera to my HT.)  The sound is fine; the background music (probably generic stock material) is forgettable, but it does sound nice. 

Now for a grade. This title is informative and well done. It's a shame that the art work on the front of the keep case (and the presentation of this on gives so little information about the delightful content. It's regrettable that the language issues are so goofy and frustrating. This could have been an "A" or "A+" title; but due to issues mentioned, the best grade I can give is "A-." Still, as long as you are strong in Dutch or English, or read Chinese well, you should enjoy this title a lot. And it definitive demonstrates that high-definition TV can be a wonderful way to show paintings and sculpture to a large audience. Hank McFadyen

Update on September 19, 2018 from Hank McFadyen. Well, I just got back from a vacation in The Netherlands, which included, of course, a trip to the Van Gogh Museum where subject title was produced. It’s a beautiful facility and a top attraction in Amsterdam, of course. But the light level is low throughout the display halls to protect the paintings from too much sun. Nothing beats seeing the original works, except just maybe seeing them on a large TV in the my home theater. On my TV, I see just how brilliant most of the Van Gogh originals really were and are! The museum staff does a nice job of relating Vincent’s many moves to various locations to the kinds of paintings he produced in each place where he lived. But I already knew more about this from viewing the Blu-ray than the curators could put up on the walls in the museum.

The Museum does a better job than the Blu-ray in showing how Vincent, although a solitary bird, did cultivate friendships with other artists and how he loved, supported, and admired them. Vincent was a decent man and he was woefully frustrated by his inability to develop a proper relationship with a loving woman. But my wife explained that Vincent was “not handsome at all.” This had never occurred to me - all those splendid self-portraits suggest to me that he would have been an interesting friend to have. But if a man has no sex appeal, no money, no job, and no concrete prospects, he is doomed to loneliness. The result was his mad obsession to create, which brother Theo was able to support to an extent. When glimmers of possible success finally became evident, these were interpreted as a threat by the madness. And Vincent’s most valuable possession was his pistol. It’s all too sad to comprehend. But if you want to try, viewing the Vincent Van Gogh Blu-ray is the best place to start.

I can’t begin to explain why we don’t have many other HDVDs about the plastic arts. If you have insight into this, I would love to hear from you.