As is normal practice with IMAX films, 'Van Gogh: Brush with Genius' is a well-informed but oh so very brief documentary. It's a laconic and epigrammatic overview which offers only a momentary and fleeting impression of its subject matter. In this case, the topic is Vincent van Gogh and the places that inspired some of the most influential and phenomenal pieces of art in the last two hundred years. The short doc never dissects or scrutinizes van Gogh's paintings or delves too deeply into the history of the artist and the events which led to his creations. However, what the feature lacks in serious insight and in-depth analysis is compensated for by a creative and stimulating approach to the man and his work.
'Brush with Genius' displays various masterworks in very unusual and atypical angles. We are continuously gazing at portraits from different points of view — slanted, looking upwards, observing as the piece fills the entire screen. Sometimes, we stare directly at paintings as if standing with other admirers in the halls of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Other times, the camera moves in so close it almost feels like we're practically pushing our noses against the artwork. It gives viewers a sense of intimacy and immersion never allowed in person, exposing the minuscule details in van Gogh's technique, chunky globs of paint, and the heavy, bulky brushstrokes.
Director François Bertrand finds a careful balance of mild entertainment and visual style which suggests an attempt at interpretation. Although nothing revelatory or deeply penetrating, the movie's subtle design to hint at an opinion of van Gogh's paintings, at least, adds another layer to a seemingly straightforward piece. The close-up shots of the artwork allude to the portions with the student and curator Hélène Seuzaret, her careful and detailed examination of the artist's work in hopes of understanding them better, of empathizing with their creator. Jacques Gamblin ('Inspector Bellamy') provides the voice of Vincent, a wry and pessimistic presence that acknowledges the irony in being appreciated only after death.
The short film also plays with a few moments of meta, which makes 'Brush with Genius' charmingly interesting and amusing. Peter Knapp, who also co-wrote this piece, stars as a French filmmaker who visits the sites that stirred and motivated van Gogh's imagination and the desire to paint. These scenes allow viewers to see the locations — or at least, those places which resemble the paintings — and compare their likeness. They're also suggestive of a self-conscious limitation within the process of art creation. Much in the same way Vincent van Gogh, a student of Impressionism, used the impasto technique, indicating a failure in art to accurately reflect reality — that it is always a subjective reality — the movie seems self-aware of its inability to appropriately represent the artist. The best it can do is offer a good impression of him.
Again, it's not an in-depth analysis of the Dutch painter or of his artwork, but it makes for satisfying and amusing entertainment. The man was a highly complex and troubled individual with an extraordinary talent. It's hugely difficult to represent the many aspects and layers of any one life in only 40 minutes, let alone the life and works of an influential and prolific figure. So Bertrand compensates with a creative approach that's suggestive of other thoughts. 'Van Gogh: Brush with Genius' is a good short doc with stunning, beautiful photography of the Vincent van Gogh's paintings and the places which inspired him.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment brings 'Van Gogh: Brush with Genius' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc and housed in a standard blue keepcase. When placed in the player, the disc goes straight to the main menu where we find the standard selection of options.
This latest IMAX film comes to Blu-ray with a reference level 1080p/VC-1 encode (1.78:1) which nicely demonstrates the immense beauty and magnificence of Vincent van Gogh's paintings. With pitch-perfect contrast levels allowing crystal-clear clarity and resolution, viewers can see the distinct lines in the wooden frames and every glob of paint of the canvas. The camera often pushes real close against the artwork to reveal the uneven surface and life-like textures caused by the thickly-smeared brushstrokes.
The high-def transfer is razor-sharp and consistently three-dimensional. The picture displays some beautiful photography of the French countryside, along with some attractive stylization, like shallow focus and bokeh. Fine object and architectural details expose the smallest blemish or imperfection in the paintings, stones and clothing. Blacks are inky deep and penetrating, giving the film a nice pop, and for those few moments of dark shadows, delineation is strong with plenty of visible background info. The color palette is, of course, vibrant and bright, particularly the richly-saturated primaries. This allows for the paintings to truly shine in all their splendor and brilliance. With so much to gaze and wonder at, 'Van Gogh: Brush with Genius' debuts with a gorgeous and striking video presentation that will make both IMAX and van Gogh fans very happy.
Although not the type of movie to give the sound system a tough workout, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack accompanying the short doc is an impressive surprise nonetheless, worthy of demo quality material. The accented narration is very well-prioritized in the center of the screen with the enunciation of every word coming in loud and lucidly clear. While a good chunk of the lossless mix feels front-heavy, imaging is very wide and expansive with several terrific moments of discrete ambient effects to extend the soundfield. Directionality and channel separation is convincing and wonderfully immersive as the entire room fills with endless sound and activity.
The music is without a doubt the design's best feature, occupying all the speakers for a majority of the movie's runtime. Dynamic range is incredibly sharp and detailed with astounding clarity within the orchestration, differentiating the highs and mids accurately. We can easily make out and distinguish each note and instrument being used, and the changes made between that and the sound effects are fluid and smooth. The low end plays a very subtle and quiet role, meant only to provide the music with some weight and presence. Overall, this is a far better soundtrack than initially expected and a worthwhile listen for IMAX fans.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'Van Gogh: Brush with Genius,' Image Entertainment puts together a decent assortment of supplements.
'Van Gogh: Brush with Genius' is a creative and interesting IMAX film from François Bertrand and Peter Knapp about the influential and prolific Dutch artist. Although the short piece does not offer an in-depth analysis of van Gogh's paintings or his history, it's clearly meant as an amusing impression of the French locations which inspired him while displaying beautiful photography of his masterworks. The Blu-ray edition arrives with a reference quality video transfer and a highly-active audio presentation. The supplements are small and somewhat lacking, but overall, the high-def package makes for a good Blu-ray IMAX fans will enjoy and appreciate.