November 13, 2008

On Filming The Eyes of Van Gogh : The Director's Viewpoint

The goal I set for myself in transferring my film script for The Eyes of Van Gogh to the screen was never to present but rather to uncover.

My director of photography, Ian Dudley, and I employ a subjective camera throughout the entire film. The idea is to get inside Vincent's head. Everything seen and felt is from his point of view. In order to achieve this, the camera, rather than viewing the action, is always within the action. We strove to give objective expression to inner experience, i.e., to show what Vincent was thinking and feeling; to show how a memory, dream or hallucination registers in his mind: texture, sound, color, shape, tempo.

The purpose is not for the audience merely to be a witness, but rather for them to live within the image and to participate psychologically in the action. Vincent's mind, from beginning to end, is always engaged. His confusion, struggle, bewilderment and desperation grow and grow. He is never totally in one place. When he is in the past he still retains some of the present and vice versa.

Many scenes are dream, imaginary or hallucinatory sequences. In order to convey the intensity and obsessive quality and to maintain the subjective camera movement, all of the scenes were shot at 360 degrees with a handheld camera. From childhood on, Vincent van Gogh never took anything for granted. He always marveled at every new discovery; at all the wonders of the world.

Because of the burden he put on his brother, Theo van Gogh, and because his work never sold, Vincent suffered constantly with terrible bouts of guilt, remorse and regret Vincent came to the insane asylum at St. Remy because he wanted to be isolated from the outside world and be in a protective environment. As long as he could discover and reveal new truths and carry on with his work he could hold the horrible disease at bay.

The constant obsession by psychoanalysts, doctors and armchair experts to pigeonhole van Gogh's illness, to give it a specific name, to use it to explain his actions, to claim that the very quality of his personality and his genius can be attributed to a specific malady: bi-polar disease, schizophrenia, autism, tinnitus, gonorrhea, lead poisoning, ad finitum ad nauseam is utter rubbish. It's an insult to Vincent and proof that these people have absolutely no understanding of the man. For Vincent, inactivity was absolute torture. Painting was the only thing that protected him from the constant questions and doubts that haunted him. By going without proper sleep or food, by working himself to the point of exhaustion -- this alone helped silence the most frightening thoughts. It was vitally important to him that his work be recognized; for there to be some sense of recompense, because then he could ease the burden placed on Theo.

Vincent van Gogh's three greatest fears were: suffering another attack; being incapacitated and unable to work; and failing to justify though his work all that Theo had done for him. He felt that if he couldn't work he had no reason to live, no right to take money away from Theo. Vincent was completely original both in his work and in his illness.

Certainly he had severe emotional problems and no doubt they were exacerbated by malnutrition and traumatic experiences - the Borinage, etc. that made him more vulnerable - but ultimately he was defeated by an immense sensitivity and an overwhelming empathic nature that was unable to cope with the reality of the world and the nature of most people.

In spite of what most think, Vincent was a realist both in his life and his work, but his reality was light years beyond everyday reality and therein lay his genius. He indeed saw life as it was but was never able to come to terms with it. Most realists become cynics, but Vincent was totally incapable of this. When an artist becomes a cynic, he also become a hack and is no longer capable of producing heartfelt work. Technical virtuosity may remain, but the "soul" of the work is lost.

Vincent never lost either. By the world's standard of normalcy, then and now, Vincent was not an idealist but quixotic. However, the "world's standard of normalcy, then and now," is by definition pedestrian, mediocre, compliant, herdish, pragmatic, accommodating and compromising. Vincent was extremely difficult to deal with. If he saw some-thing unjust or wrong, he felt compelled to attack it. It was always love or hate and this created many enemies. Even Theo found him impossible to live with. All Vincent thought about, all he cared about was the work. Nevertheless, Theo, like Roulin the postman and Vincent's teacher in Amsterdam, Mendes da Costa, always thought that Vincent was a great and unique individual. Those three were the only friends Vincent ever had, the only people who under-stood and loved him for what and who he was. But they were also unique and wonderful people, atypical from the average person.

Many people today who adulate Vincent make him into a Christ-like martyr. He was neither and would have detested the notion. He is depicted as the ultimate "communal" artist. This is nonsense. He was in fact the ultimate "individualist" who was never able to work well with others, or to be bound by any sort of cooperative rules. His desire to work with others came from loneliness more than anything else. Another myth is that he sacrificed his life (again, the martyr syndrome) for humanity. No. He gave his life to his work. He did indeed have an obsessive desire to educate and inspire people. But he strove to do so through his work, which superseded everything else.

The most significant and revelatory things about van Gogh are not that he cut off his earlobe or that he suffered attacks of madness or that he committed suicide, but rather that he lived life to the fullest, realized his artistic potential as much as humanly possible, fought magnificently against the attacks and all forms of adversity, never willingly giving in to them. Most important, he created a superb body of work that will live as long as the human race survives. The theme of his life, and the theme of my film The Eyes of Van Gogh, is Vincent's quest to achieve immortality through his work.

No comments:

Post a Comment