Vincent’s Starry, Starry Night


Not long ago, Turner Classic Movies filled my television screen with yet another showing of Lust for Life, the still-popular 1950s biopic starring Kirk Douglas. Not long after, I could tune in my radio to hear the haunting 1970s Don McLean ballad, “Vincent.”

Both works explore the misunderstood genius of Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose name is known even to those who have never seen his art on display. Maybe it’s because of the sad knowledge that van Gogh was psychologically tortured enough to sever part of one of his ears, or because, at age 37, he took his life – having scarcely profited from the creations that would so amazingly outlive him – on McLean’s “starry, starry night” of 1890.

That was nearly 130 years ago, but van Gogh remains one of the world’s most famous artists. And he is back in the cultural forefront, in Loving Vincent, touted as “the world’s first fully painted feature film.”

Loving Vincent – to be shown at the Flint Institute of Arts on January 12-14 – lends a sense of mystery to its subject’s demise, casting itself in a “what-if?” mode as a young man, the son of a longtime friend of van Gogh’s, travels to the French town where van Gogh has recently died. In the messenger’s possession is Vincent’s last letter, written to the artist’s beloved brother, Theo. Interesting questions are raised about Vincent’s final days.

Perhaps more significant, the 853 shots of action are rendered in 6,500 frames of oil paintings in the van Gogh style, showing rotoscoped images of the human cast (which includes Saoirse Ronan of Atonement, Brooklyn and Lady Bird fame). Loving Vincent has been nominated for the Golden Globe for best animated feature, and an Oscar nomination in the same category seems likely.

Besides Loving Vincent, the Friends of Modern Art film series at the FIA in January will offer a trio of pop culture-related documentaries and an indie drama with the farewell turn of a great character actor.

The “docs” are Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards (playing January 5-7), an in-depth portrait of legendary fashion designer Manolo Blahnik; 78/52 (January 18-21), which dissects the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho; and Rumble (January 19-21), about the impact of Native Americans on the rock music world. (Jimi Hendrix? Yup.)

Lucky (January 26-28) is highlighted by an impressive performance by Harry Dean Stanton – who died last September – as a 90-year-old atheist struggling with old age and spiritual discontent.

Also, the 2016 Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro – in which the late James Baldwin reflects on the civil rights struggle in America – will enjoy a January 11 return engagement at FIA as part of the museum’s ongoing collaboration with the Flint nonprofit, Communities First.

As always, information on all FIA screenings is available by visiting or by calling 810.234.1695.


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