I will refer, if a bit tediously, to Roland Barthes, who wrote in his “Death of the Author” that it is absolutely unacceptable to explain one's achievements, such as the beauty of Tchaikovsky's music and harmonies, his ability to create music – with his “amorality” or, in the case of van Gogh – with his madness. That would be too simple. Biography shouldn't be used as an explanation. The main character in “Lust for Life” is played by Kirk Douglas (1916), the father of Michael Douglas. A very colorful, visually important film, even though the colors of van Gogh's works, say, in a background scene, are specifically not used. That is always the director's prerogative. (Here I must mention the film “Reflecting Skin”, by British director Philip Ridley; it is virtually saturated with the colors of van Gogh's paintings.) But it would be very difficult to combine biography with visuals. If van Gogh were shown to be walking through a field of sunflowers, already that would be overdoing it.
The great Dutch director Jos Stelling (1945) is already known to Latvians by way of the film festival “Arsenals”. Although he hasn't filmed anything lately, he is author to the film “Rembrandt Fecit 1669” (1977), which is mainly about Rembrandt's last years. Life, poverty, illness, debauchery, everything bad that ever happened to him – it's all shown, if at times indirectly. But the film's main emphasis, as in Jarman's “Caravaggio”, is on the film's visual similarities to Rembrandt's painting style. Stelling also uses certain color tonalities, such as pastel-browns, that aren't drawn so much from Rembrandt's works as they serve to create a painterly conditionality. Stelling always works with a bare minimum of dialog in his films. In his film “The Pointsman” (1986) there are, if I'm not mistaken, just fifteen sentences. “Rembrandt 1669”, strictly speaking, is also a quiet film. There is no background narration, and the dialog is reduced to a bare minimum. The story is about the painter, but uses and reworks the subjects, colors, compositions and even the plays with light that are found in his paintings – in a sense, everything that creates the semblance of a work by Rembrandt. Perhaps not by referencing actual paintings, but rather creating an allover impression. Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) did a similar thing in his absolutely fantastic film “Barry Lyndon” (1975). The film is a variation on the themes found in the paintings of the 18th century artist Thomas Gainsborough, rather than about just one specific painting. Jos Stelling's film uses a similar principle.
Text after talks with Viktors Freibergs was prepared by Anna Iltnere