Sunday, January 30, 2011

Artist biopics

TCM is showing Lust For Life this afternoon at 5:30 PM ET. Kirk Douglas stars as tortured artist Vincent Van Gogh. It's an excellent movie with a great performance from Douglas, an Oscar-winning performance from Anthony Quinn as fellow artist Paul Gauguin, and wonderful color cinematography helped immensely by photographing actual Van Gogh paintings. The film is based on a biographical novel by Irving Stone, who also wrote the novel The Agony and the Ecstasy, the story of Michelangelo's painting the Sistine Chapel, which was turned into a 1965 film.

Biopics of visual artists are not uncommon, probably for any number of reasons. The "starving artist" trope makes in theory for a good story line. If an artist isn't starving, then he's probably in the service of a nobleman, as with Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy; the conflict between what the artist thinks is good art and what the nobleman wants is another plot device that makes for a good movie. It also helps that visual art is, well, visual. There's no reason why a good painting wouldn't look good on the screen: Portrait of Jennie proved that, as do the portraits in Laura or The Picture of Dorian Gray. Salvador Dali is one of the artists who famously lent his work to movies because of its striking visual nature; in his case that would be the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.

Which artist movie is the best? I don't quite know which one I'd pick. Charles Laughton as Rembrandt might be the best performance, but when it comes to the beauty of the art, I'd have to pick a color movie, which would lead me either to today's Lust for Life, or Girl With a Pearl Earring, which has lovely cinematography, if a story that probably has no bearing in reality.

Spanish artists like El Greco or Goya in The Naked Maja have been honored too, although both of those aren't quite as good. Surprisingly, I still haven't seen the Soviet-era Andrei Rublev (the high price of the DVD is an off-putting factor).

What's your favorite real-artist movie?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Peter Watkin's 'Munch' is the best artist biopic i've ever seen. little hard to get hold of but totally worth it.