A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
How to portray the artist at work? Directors through the years have shown them sporadically applying paint to canvas, but for the most part the artist's task in the movies is to drink wine, argue by candlelight, and spend a good deal of time in unheated studios with undressed models. The big dramatic scenes involve confrontations with those who do not understand his genius: His dealers, his lovers, his public, and his creditors.
Only occasionally does a film come along where we get the sensation that actual creation is taking place before our eyes. That happens when the filmmakers are also in the art of creating, and transfer their inspiration to the characters in a sort of artistic ventriloquism. "Camille Claudel" (1989) had that feeling, as Isabelle Adjani grubbed about in a ditch, digging up clay for her sculptures. And now here is Robert Altman's "Vincent and Theo," another film that generates the feeling that we are in the presence of a man in the act of creation.
True art is made as if God were a lot of little cottage industries. Artists take up shapeless raw material -- paint or clay, or a blank sheet of pape -- and transform it into something wonderful that never existed before. This is such a joyous activity that I am at a loss to understand how an artist could ever be unhappy, and yet so many are. Perhaps, like God, they grieve when man ignores their handiwork.
Vincent van Gogh was one of the unhappiest of artists. Some medical experts now believe it was because he suffered from a maddening ear disease. "Vincent & Theo" does not attempt a diagnosis. It simply regards the fact that van Gogh, whose paintings most people today instinctively love from the first moment they see them, suffered all of his life from overwhelming rejection. He did not paint because he wanted to, he painted because he had to. He did not develop a style, he painted in the only way he could. During his lifetime he sold only one painting. How would you feel, if you worked a lifetime to create beautiful things for people to look at, and they turned their backs and chose to look at ugly things instead? And if you saw your brother sacrifice himself to support your lonely work?