Plastic Arts

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:


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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.