Daily Archives: March 12, 1993

9 1/2 Weeks with Van Gogh

From the Chicago Reader (March 12, 1993). — J.R.

VAN GOGH

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Maurice Pialat

With Jacques Dutronc, Alexandra London, Gerard Sety, Bernard le Coq, Corinne Boudon, and Elsa Zylberstein.

Consider the following two scenarios:

(1) In May 1890, Vincent van Gogh, missing one ear, arrives at Auvers-sur-Oise and meets Dr. Gachet — an avid art collector and fan of the Impressionists contacted by Vincent’s brother Theo — who advises the painter not to worry about his nervous attacks and to concentrate on his work. Taking a room at the Ravoux inn, Vincent follows the good doctor’s advice, but his alienation from others continues to torment him; during Bastille Day, when everyone else is celebrating outside, he sits alone inside, in extreme anguish, at a cafe table. While painting a field he is attacked by crows, and he agitatedly adds a few of these birds to his canvas before pulling out a revolver and shooting himself. He dies shortly afterward, his faithful brother at his bedside.

(2) In May 1890, Vincent van Gogh, both ears intact, arrives at Auvers-sur-Oise, takes a room at the Ravoux inn, and meets Dr. Gachet — an avid art collector and fan of the Impressionists contacted by Vincent’s brother Theo — who advises the painter not to worry about his nervous attacks and to concentrate on his work.

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Damned in the USA

Paul Yule’s simple talking-head documentary, made for England’s Channel Four in 1991, was attacked in court by the Reverend Donald Wildmon, who called it “blasphemous and obscene”; Wildmon unsuccessfully tried to get it barred from the U.S. and sued the film’s producers for $8 million, which is why it’s a little late reaching us. The film is supposedly lethal because it presents both sides of the recent art-censorship debates and actually lets us see the contested Robert Mapplethorpe photographs and Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, hear the 2 Live Crew music, and then make up our own minds. What it doesn’t do, alas, is present both sides of the debate on federal arts funding–an understandable omission considering the English audience the film was originally made for, like most audiences in the world, values art and education enough to dismiss out of hand the “con” position as it’s routinely expressed in this country, which usually defines federal support of business as “freedom” and federal support of art as “enslavement,” without worrying about who’s being freed and who’s being enslaved. (Only in America, it seems, can such a debate happily ignore what the rest of the world thinks about the subject.) Without being especially brilliant or original, this film remains compulsively watchable simply because it clarifies what people are attempting to do to limit some of our cultural choices.… Read more »

A Far Off Place

Mikael Salomon, the cinematographer on The Abyss and Far and Away, directs his first feature (for Disney), and it’s a creditable job–an effective adventure story about two recently orphaned teenagers (Reese Witherspoon and Ethan Randall) fleeing from the ivory poachers who killed their parents and crossing the Kalahari Desert with the help of a young bushman (Sarel Bok). Adapted by Robert Caswell, Jonathan Hensleigh, and Sally Robinson from two books by Laurens van der Post, the film has a nice feeling for the terrain (shooting was done in Zimbabwe) as well as for the (mainly unstereotypical) characters. With Jack Thompson and Maximilian Schell. On the same program, a formulaic and predictably hysterical Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman cartoon, Trail Mix-Up. (Lincoln Village, Water Tower, Ford City, Evanston, Norridge, Webster Place)… Read more »