Robert Altman’s admired, but little seen look at the Brothers Van Gogh (artist & dealer) was apparently conceived as long-form tv, then cut down to feature-length, losing the rhythm of life in the process. Instead, it feels tricked up into an all-hysterics passion play, especially in domestic scenes that always seem to end with something thrown to the floor: paint, letters, wine bottles, furniture. Life’s a mess in Julian Mitchell’s inadequate script, reflecting the musty, self-importance of bad ‘80s British theatre. A shame, too, since Altman gets fine scenes out on location exteriors, even as the brothers (Tim Roth & Paul Rhys) do some alarming scenery chewing. (Rhys a doe-like poseur; Roth eating enough paint to kill Vincent with lead poisoning.) A real curate’s egg, this one; and hard to reconcile with the sheer amount of work Van Gogh turned out in such a short period: 700 drawings & 800 oils in his last 6 years along with the beautifully observed/self-analytical correspondence with his brother.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: You’d think the struggle to paint would lend itself to the screen more readily than, say, writing or musical composition. Alas, no. Still, round off your Van Gogh seminar with the ‘50s melodrama of LUST FOR LIFE/’56. (Better than you recall even with a 40-yr-old Theo; and with real paintings in place of the coarse copies used by Altman.) Or go a bit deeper into the mind of a difficult painter of possible genius with THE HORSE’S MOUTH/’58, written & starring an uncompromising Alec Guinness.