Tuesday 8 May 2012

The history of the print

A weekend film screening served as a great reminder to me of what it is that makes the cinema and the medium of film so important - asides from the quality/enjoyment of the film being watched.  The film was Lust for Life - a biopic of Vincent Van Gogh starring Kirk Douglas and directed by Vincente Minnelli - intrigued, I decided to go and see it without reading any reviews.

The film was screened in one of my favourite London haunts, the British Film Institute. When a man came on stage before the film started I was surprised as hadn’t remembered reading about an introduction. Turns out he was just there to inform us that the print we were going to view was from Spain, with Spanish subtitles, but that it was the best print available so they had decided to run with it and hoped the subtitles wouldn’t put anyone off. This immediately sent me off on a reverie imagining  the cinemas and venues around the world where this film might have been seen and I found something very comforting in this. Is it nostalgia or something more? For me it was the reminder of the materiality of the film that I loved, to think of the care and attention needed to keep a film in circulation, of the various projectionists and film enthusiasts who have handled the film, the film goers who have responded to it. There’s just something magical about the history of the print itself. This isn’t to say I’m against digital projection in cinemas but just that seeing this old Spanish print of ‘Lust for Life’ reminded me that much of the power of the cinema, and of film itself, lies in it being this shared experience. The history of the print itself made me feel this on an even wider scale, not just sharing it with those at that particular screening, but with film lovers in other countries and in other times.

The notes given out at the screening informed me that the film is based on a book ‘Lust for Life’ written by Irving Stone, which is in turn based on the letters Vincent exchanged with his brother Theo. The letters are used as a very effective story telling device at various points throughout the film and they’ve left me with a desire to re-read the published letters at some point. Although there are, I am sure, some inaccuracies in the film, to me it really worked to convey the passion and creative life of Vincent Van Gogh and Kirk Douglas excelled in his role as Van Gogh. It was also a very welcome surprise to me to see a Lindsay Anderson regular, Jill Bennett, playing Van Gogh’s sister Wilhelmina.  This is the second film directed by Vincentre Minnelli and starring Kirk Douglas that I've seen in the past few weeks and I'm turning into a real fan - I think it's time to go seek out some more of both of their films!

Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh (Image taken from here)

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