BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND | Vincent van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing
WORDS BY PHIL GRABSKY
Hello everyone, including new followers of EXHIBITION ON SCREEN in Korea, Japan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan….
I have just been to a screening of VINCENT VAN GOGH: A NEW WAY OF SEEING. It was in a gorgeous cinema with fantastic sound. The screen was huge, there were 300 people attending, the seats were great, the audio perfect, even the coffee was tasty. How fortunate we are indeed that cinemas have become so wonderful and that, of course, the scheduling of films is so much more varied that EXHIBITION ON SCREEN is now being seen in 61 countries. But not only art, there is wonderful theatre, opera and ballet too. This simply didn’t exist like this ten years ago.
VINCENT VAN GOGH: A NEW WAY OF SEEING was first released in 2016 and has become one of our most popular films. We have had so many requests to repeat it that it is coming out afresh in just over one week (from 20th March). It is one of two special encores in the current season. (The other is I, CLAUDE MONET – being re-released in May). As I watched it, I have to admit to feeling enormous pride. These films are of course a team effort but, above all, I wish to express my continued admiration for the film’s extraordinary director David Bickerstaff. Maybe it is somewhat boastful to express this but it is a staggeringly good film. I try to watch any and every art film made by anyone and anywhere and David’s film is as good as any I have seen. To pull out just one detail: how on earth did he know that the actor (usually beardless) Jamie de Courcey would not only look so astoundingly like Van Gogh but also be such a brilliant actor.
The starting point for this film was us being informed that the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam was going to re-hang its entire collection. That doesn’t happen often in any gallery and hadn’t happened at the VGM for many years. For us, it seemed an ideal moment to look afresh at the character of Vincent van Gogh. There have been no shortage of books and films about “the world’s favourite artist” but, let’s be honest, they do frequently concentrate a little too much on the extremes of his character – and seem to leave one with a sense that they drank too much, visited too many brothels and so on. They offer up a troubled, almost lunatic mind that painted as he did almost by accident. Well, I don’t believe any artist paints in any way at all by accident. We wanted our film to explore where this artist actually came from and how he learnt his craft.
Luckily for us, we were helped in this quest by a superlative ‘cast list’ from the Van Gogh museum itself. How impressive are the Van Gogh curators! And bear in mind they are almost all speaking a second language. We always love to tap into extensive knowledge but when it is allied with real enthusiasm and articulacy you can’t go wrong.
As I sat in my comfy cinema chair I admit to being proud of many other aspects too: I thought the score by our long-term collaborator Asa Bennett was 100% spot on – and getting the emotional tone of a musical score just right is very hard. I thought the cinematography was superb, the editing faultless, the post-production work (by Storm in London) really great. I also knew about all the behind-the-scenes efforts – clearing the rights to use paintings, finding the sets and costumes, making sure every single caption was correct, researching and researching again the life story, overseeing the finances, so on and so forth. I know it’s wrong to boast but we always set out to make films that have long term, legacy value – and in the crowded arena of Van Gogh films I think we did just that. You’ll have to decide for yourself but, for my part, now that we have made 19 EOS films, I have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps this is the best one so far.
One final thought: We will be announcing the lineup for our next season of EOS very soon - keep updated with our newsletter and social media for the big reveal. I already look forward to sitting in a cinema somewhere and enjoying it with you, my fellow art-lovers.