More Films About Art

I recently reblogged my old 2013 post about the depiction of some famous artists in films made about their lives. Many readers suggested other films about different artists, some of which had not been released at the time, and others which I had seen but had left out of the original post. I suggested I might publish a second post later this year, but as it is a damp and dismal afternoon in Beetley, I have done it today.

I have only featured films I have actually seen. I know there are many more that I have not got around to viewing.

The Agony And The Ecstasy. (1965)

I was only 14 years old when I saw this at the cinema. It was promoted as an epic tale of the life of Michaelangelo, starring Charlton Heston as the painter and sculptor, and Rex Harrison as The Pope. The film was produced and directed by Carol Reed, one of Britain’s best. It turned out to be mainly about Michaelangelo’s struggle to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Not wanting the job, then unhappy with the finished result.

All this is set around the intense world of politics and war that beset the region in the 16th century.

The result is rather stodgy, to be honest. It felt overlong at 138 minutes, and I was shuffling in my seat long before the halfway point. The worthy supporting cast members give it their best shot, sets and scenery are well-handled, (they recreated the Sistine Chapel on a film set) but Heston overplays his role, and you cannot fail to notice that.

Here’s the official trailer.

Lust For Life. (1956)

Kirk Douglas does very well as the troubled Vincent Van Gogh in this film, and we also get another artist, Paul Gaugin, played by Anthony Quinn. An indication of how good it is was a Golden Globe for Douglas as Best Actor, and an Oscar for Quinn as best supporting actor.

We get Vincent’s early life, his departure to Paris with his brother Theo, and his meeting with Gaugin. Kirk Douglas throws everything into the role, and I found him completely convincing. (Yes, the ear cutting scene is included) His descent into madness and hallucinataions is well-handled, and the recreations of the original paintings good enough to make it feel as if Kirk is painting them.

Good sets, some location filming, and nice period feel, great supporting cast, and exceptionally good use of colour make this film stand out. It is still worth seeing now, for anyone interested in the painter and his work, or to watch Kirk Douglas giving one of his best ever performances.

Here’s an old trailer.

Moulin Rouge. (1952)

Thankfully not the awful Baz Luhrmann musical from 2001, this is a biopic of the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, starring Jose Ferrer and directed by John Huston. Courtesy of a flashback, we learn that the young Henri suffered injuries in a fall as a child. This caused his legs to be stunted, giving him a lot of pain, and also making him exceptionally odd in appearance.

Unhappy, unlucky in love, and convinced that life will hold no joy for him, he loses himself in his painting, moving to Paris to begin a career. There he spends his time with dancers, entertainers, and prostitutes. He favours the nightclub ‘Moulin Rouge’, where he paints advertising posters of the stars and leading ladies, all the time drinking heavily. There he falls in love with a prostitute, Marie, but their relationship is turbulent, and she takes advantage of him.

As Henri continues to try to find love, he is slowly drinking himself to death, resulting in another accident when he falls down some stairs.

This is a remarkable film; with wonderful recreations of the Moulin Rouge, convincing characters, and a real feel of the turn of the century setting. It is also a tour de force from Ferrer, as he had to work with various props including knee pads and concealed pits to give the impression of his incredibly stunted legs. He also plays his own father, early in the film. I have seen it many times, and even now it is hard to believe it was released the same year I was born.

Here is the official trailer.

Carrington. (1995)

I saw this on TV a few years ago, and really liked it. English painter Dora Carrington is played by Emma Thompson, with the marvellous Jonathan Pryce as Lytton Strachey, her destructive love interest. This film has sexual themes, including homosexuality, and ‘sexual confusion’. Filmed as chapters, it covers a time period from 1915-1932. The film also features a particularly good score, with the music for the soundtrack composed by the talented Michael Nyman.

The supporting cast deserves mention, as it includes some of the best British character actors of the time. Samuel West, Penelope Wilton, Rufus Sewell, Jeremy Northam, and Janet McTeer. (As well as many more) Sets and costumes are never less than flawless, and the direction from Christopher Hampton is perfect. This is as much a film about Stracey though, and was actually adapted from a book about him, choosing to feature his unusual realtionship with Dora as its main theme.

Serving as an acting masterclass from many of the best in the business, this film rewards the serious viewer who is not deterred by some of the content and themes. Pryce and Thompson are simply outstanding.

Here’s the trailer.

Mr.Turner. (2014)

British artist J.M.W.Turner is played by Timothy Spall, who won the Palme’Dor at Cannes for Best Actor in the role. He is joined by a fine supporting cast, including Lesley Manville and Marion Bailey, with direction from the wonderful Mike Leigh. The story looks at the last twenty-five years of Turner’s life, (he died in 1851) including his relationships with the women in his life, and his unusual approach to his painting.

In all honesty, it doesn’t get much better than this, especially if you are a fan of both history, and Turner’s art. Spall is amazing, completely inhabiting the role of the painter. Cinematography, sets, location filming, design, costumes, casting, nothing lets down the viewer. Direction and screenplay from Mike Leigh is as good as ever, and the whole film is a cinema experience and a feast for the eyes. Not much more to say really. Just watch it when you can.

Some reviewers called this film ‘A masterpiece’. No argument from me.

Here is the official trailer.

That’s it from me. I don’t think I have seen any other films about the lives of artists and painters. If I remember one, I will do another post. 🙂

35 thoughts on “More Films About Art

      1. Thank you for the recommendation, Pete! Will make a note. Just seen, in LDN over the weekend you will get 23 degrees (C). Here we only will get 15 degrees. This is really unfair. We also had British weather for six weeks. Lol Best wishes, Michael

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Kirk’s real name was Issur Danielovitch Demsky, and his parents were Russian jews. Despite his resemblance to Vincent, it seems unlikely they could have been related. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I’ve often found biopics of well known people to be unsatisfactory because they don;t get actors who strongly resemble them ( or can be made up to), get tons of facts wrong etc. But—the one biopic that really impressed me is Stan & Ollie (2018). Steve Coogan portrayed a realistic Stan but John C. Reilly’s portrayal of Oliver Hardy was amazing! He looked, moved and spoke so like him I really felt I was watching the real Oliver Hardy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, WN. I haven’t seen that yet, but Ferrer did a fair impersonation of Lautrec, and Kirk Douglas wasn’t too far off resembling Van Gogh.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  2. (1) According to the trailer, “The Agony and The Ecstasy” is a ‘turbulent masterpiece’! That must be true because as the trailer is pulled down the road, the ceiling is bound to experience turbulence with all the potholes, sharp curves, high winds, and sudden stops.
    (2) “I’ve seen agony you’ve never dreamed of.” But what about ecstasy, Vincent? Have you seen that?
    (3) Toulouse-Lautrec “falls in love with a prostitute, Marie, but their relationship is turbulent.” They need to get out of the trailer!
    (4) I simply a-Dora good film starring Emma Thompson.
    (5) At first, I thought “Mr. Turner” was a biopic of George Turner (1841–1910). I guess it’s not his turn yet.

    (1) I visited the Sistine Chapel back in 1970. The colors had faded quite a bit over the centuries, but, of course, they were made vivid again years later.
    (2) I visited Auvers-sur-Oise back in 1994 or 1995. This village is where Vincent and his brother Theo are buried. As a bonus, the church depicted in the painting “L’église d’Auvers-sur-Oise” is located there. It’s one of my favorites!
    (3) I last visited the Moulin Rouge back in 1995. In the trailer, Paris is labeled a “city of sin.” Here in Sin City (Las Vegas), there was once a Moulin Rouge (hotel/casino).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There does seem to be an unusual amount of turbulence in this post, I have to agree. Perhaps I should have secured the services of an experienced airline stewardess before posting?
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks, Pete. I must try and catch up on Carrington, although I have watched the rest (the three first ones quite a long time ago as well, all on TV), and couldn’t agree more. I am a big fan of Timothy Spall and I also love Turner’s paintings, and I did review the movie when it came out. A fabulous post, Pete, thanks for the reminder and for the recommendation. And enjoy the rest of the Sunday (it’s rather dull here as well)!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Olga. I think you would enjoy ‘Carrington’. The structure is unusual, and the performances perfect. I don’t usually care for Emma that much, (except in Remains of The Day) but she held her own in that film.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

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