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[Article] – Who Else Could Benefit From Loving Vincent’s Approach?

 

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Posted October 30, 2017 by

 
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The art of painting has had a long relationship with cinema, often serving as sources of inspiration and even becoming part of films themselves, with painterly sequences featuring in features like What Dreams May Come, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams and famously in the stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Loving Vincent has gone one step further, becoming the first fully oil painted feature film. An incredible labour of love, the film recreates Van Gogh’s signature impression and in the process of utilising an older medium manages to breath life into the newer medium of moving images, in an age where motion pictures are becoming bereft of ideas and even the spectre of special effects begins to stagnate, could this painterly approach offer a creative counterpoint.

Of course Van Gogh’s style, that forgoes quality for expression, made Loving Vincent possible, the looser and more abstract nature is easier to produce en masse, but even taking that into consideration it took several years to create to sixty thousand plus frames to make the film a reality. Its fair to say a more photorealistic approach would be off the table, if the makers had instead focused on say Michelangelo, Canaletto, Holbein or Van Eyck they would probably still be stuck on the first scene. Only styles that are not focused on technical quality are going to offer realistic possibilities, what other artists oeuvres could be emulated in the mould of Loving Vincent?

J. M. W. Turner

Turner may have seen recent big-screen success in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner with a staggering portrayal by Timothy Spall, but perhaps a painted approach would offer a different viewpoint. Turner’s style started out as a more realistic approach, inspired by masters like Claude Lorrain, though as his life progressed, and his eyesight worsened, Turner’s style grew looser and more expressive, while it lacked in quality it oozed passion and emotion. Mr. Turner focused on this aspect, showing the artist only being able to express himself via the canvas, and it is a theme that is explored in Loving Vincent, passion is often key to any artist’s story, something that can be vividly expressed through Turner’s evocative and often angry brush strokes. If exploring Turner’s life again feels like a re-tread, then perhaps a focus on one of his subjects, seascapes were particularly prelevant and the ocean waves would lend themselves to the filmic medium. Turner’s Fisherman At Sea and The Battle Of Trafalgar are some of his most suggestive, alluding at larger stories, ones that could be adapted in for feature length and would help dissipate the bad name seafaring has been given by the ailing Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise.

Pablo Picasso

An artist who journeyed through many different styles and grew ever more experimental as his career progressed, Picasso certainly has a varied back catalogue of work that could inspire, also being one of the most well recognised artists of the 20th century would help create a financial incentive for any brave enough investor. Whilst he may be most famous for Cubism, it may be too abstract to subject audiences to for ninety minutes, many of Picasso’s other movements lend themselves to an adaptation that could be practically realised, his blue and rose periods, and experimentations with neoclassicism, surrealism, and primitivism all show potential. What is clearly similar between these styles, whichever may prove most effective, is colour, lots of it, an approach that is suggestive and evocative, rather than realistic, and colourful is a term that can certainly be applied to Picasso’s life. From early struggles in Paris where he had to burn his work to keep warm, bohemian times with greater success, living under German occupation in World War II and a fraught relationship with politics, Picasso’s life offers plenty for the biopic treatment and may be a better focus than the work itself. A full examination of his life may be out of the question, given a longer running time will take longer to complete, but this may give an opportunity to utilize many of Picasso’s approach, defining the appropriate period in his life with the appropriate style, and this may allow for cubism to be showcased in manageable doses. Though whatever approach is taken towards Picasso, with garish colours and expressionist figures, when translated in cinematic terms it would be similar to what is usually described as ‘psychedelic’ and may attract the kinds of audiences that 2001 garnered after rebranding itself as ‘the ultimate trip,’ viewing such work on a canvas in a fixed position is a lot different than a ninety minute assault, maybe that might be fitting for a relentless artist like Picasso.

Edward Hopper

Hopper’s work has long provided inspiration for artists, and indeed filmmakers, with Alfred Hitchcock, Dario Argento, Wim Wenders and Ridley Scott all citing his influence. Sam Mendes Road To Perdition is a particularly famous example, with Conrad L. Hall’s Oscar-winning cinematography beautifully evoking Hopper’s vision of America. His sparse, stark, singular images spin tales of loneliness, contemplation and melancholia, and it is this sparseness that would lend itself to a cinematic approach. Hopper’s oft-solitary characters inhabiting textureless environments, highlighted by harsh shafts of sunlight may lend itself well to film, the emptiness of the images would certainly make the behemoth task seem a little less daunting, the lack of fine detail and complex objects, combined with a static compositions, emulating Hopper’s confident, formal style, will certainly be a time saver. His focus on Americana is also no cinematic stranger; Malick’s Badlands, the Coen’s Raising Arizona and the aforementioned Wender’s Paris, Texas have drawn great success from this theme, the disillusion of the American dream continues to enliven the craft. If Hopper’s paintings were to be the subject, perhaps an Altman-esque tableau approach would benefit, characters solitary lives crossing over to come to some kind of joint conclusion. If the focus were on Hopper, his struggles in turn of the century New York would mirror his themes and keep in fitting with the artist film format, the subjects trying to find their voice and indeed success, it would also no doubt be cheaper to render a century old New York in paint rather than to recreate it digitally.

Salvador Dali

Dali’s work was not bound by medium; his career took many different paths, even venturing into the film industry, his collaborations with Luis Buñuel on Un Chien Andalou and Alfred Hitchcock on Spellbound brought his surrealism to mainstream attention. But it is his paintings that have created an enduring legacy, the surreal and dream-like imagery having both confounded and delighted for generations, there would certainly be a joy in seeing Dali’s creations gain the fluidity of motion, the sight of melting clock-faces from The Persistence Of Memory may be particularly tantalising. Though known for surrealism Dali’s style was influenced by the Renaissance masters, giving his work a technical quality, this would be a stumbling block, fortunately though Dali didn’t often emulate the tableau style of the Renaissance, often focusing on a few subjects against a desolate landscape, plain skies and an earth devoid of landmarks. How would the subjects of Dali’s work come together to form a narrative though, his recurring themes of religion, time and er, quantum mechanics don’t sound particularly cohesive, but maybe they don’t have to be, through the lens of surrealism they can form a higher meaning. Otherwise Dali himself could provide interesting, a life unsurprisingly full of colour, perhaps his dalliance with the film industry could be subject, who doesn’t want to see Alfred Hitchcock rendered in Dali’s signature surrealism.

L. S. Lowry

Lowry’s depiction of industrial life in northern England may be choc-full of detail, but the simple nature of the figures and landmarks makes adaptation a possibility. Lowry’s ‘stick figure’ approach to characters and his portraiture, exaggerating features and not focusing on detail hugely simplifies the anthropological aspects of capture, his barren landscapes, bereft of colour, almost like perpetual snow, also provides a welcoming lack of information needed to be filled in. Focusing on Lowry himself may not be benefitting of his style, but depiction of life in the north has often been a source of cinematic interpretation, with Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, The Full Monty and the recent I, Daniel Blake helping define a template of shows life as tough but graced by humour, fitting for Lowry’s approach. The tableau style that is mostly persistent through Lowry’s career may prosper from a Tati-esque Playtime visualisation, a detached viewpoint that offers the audience the whole rather than manipulating through editing. A day in northern life, showing the trials of industrialisation but with a humorous approach would be fitting for Lowry, a reportedly a mischievous man himself and provide a great platform for socio-political commentary.

While there are artists that could offer similar rewards a Van Gogh, why not shift focus and keep the technique, where sequels and remakes reign supreme why not offer a more left-field approach, painted remakes or reimagining’s. Of films that employ an already painterly approach, Barry Lyndon and Days Of Heaven immediately spring to mind, both artful in their inspiration and approach, whilst Barry Lyndon’s epic running time would render it impractical to repurpose, Days Of Heaven represents a more realistic option. Malick’s film captured stunning natural beauty, elevating the film to an ethereal level, and those rolling fields, golden tones and indeed that Hopper inspired house already seem like paintings, when so often remakes seem to lose the essence of the original – Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho added nothing but colour – perhaps only through painting could the original be recaptured, surely a live-action remake would pale in comparison and anger its devotees, this different approach may offer a different take and something that could be deemed worthy in the eyes of the original.

The use of an old medium may be able to reinvigorate the new, and may even be a cheaper alternative; Loving Vincent’s had a budget of $5.5 million, a live action version would no doubt be more expensive considering the period recreations. But despite its artistic merits painted motion pictures will never become mainstream, Loving Vincent is unlikely to turn a profit, the medium doesn’t offer a large enough appeal for the key demographic of the 16-25 year-old males, and the sheer amount of time it takes to the tens of thousands of frames required, cinema will never be wall-to-wall with painted films. Van Gogh painted about 860 works in his lifetime, which constitutes just over a minute when it comes to the moving image, cinema is a great challenge for the painted medium, but can offer great artistic success, for those brave enough to undertake such a task, though the medium is likely to remain a cinematic curiosity, the most arthouse of arthouse genres.

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Sam May
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