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January 30, 1991 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1991-01-30

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ARTS
Wednesday, January 30, 1991

The Michigan Daily

Page 5

Starry night is a bit cloudy

Vincent and Theo
dir. Robert Altman

I

by Mark Binelli
feel a strength within me that I
must develop, a fire I can't put out,
but must stir up, though I don't
know where it will lead me and I
shouldn't be surprised if it brought
me to a bad end," wrote now-popular
Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh to
his brother, Theo, during their famed
correspondence at the end of the 19th
century. "In certain situations," he
Ozontinued, "it's better to be con-
quered than conqueror, more
Prometheus than Jupiter."
The near-Corsican relationship
between the two brothers has always
fascinated impressionable fans of the
self-destructive artist, but unfortu-
nately, acclaimed director Robert
Altman (M.A.S.H., Nashville) fell
short with Vincent and Theo, his
lengthy, melodramatic screen version
of the lives of the Brothers Grim.
The film opens on a very promis-
ing note: a mock van Gogh title
painting is combined with some
very sinister mood music, forcefully
suggesting a deep sense of pain be-
hind the vivid art. The film then
noves to Christie's of London,
where one of van Gogh's floral
paintings is being auctioned off for
illions of pounds. This scene is
immediately contrasted with a filthy,

rotten-toothed, impoverished Vincent
(Tim Roth), lying in his squalid but
and arguing with his brother about
money as the auctioneer and the
growing bids he is soliciting are
faintly voiced-over.
Roth (the lover in The Cook,
The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover)
is powerful as Vincent, becoming
more and more obsessive as the film
progresses, eventually self-possessed
almost to the point of catatonia.
British stage actor Paul Rhys is also
strong as Theo, the museum director
who supports his brother when no
one else will and suffers from a bad
case of syphilis. Perhaps the best
supporting performance in the film
is given by Wladimir Yordanoff,
who plays the obnoxious Paul
Gauguin. The artist's precise style is
contrasted well with Vincent's (who
is the type of artist who cleans his
brush- off with his mouth),
especially in one scene where they
cook dinner.
Admittedly, the film has many
powerful, challenging scenes, filled
with many subtleties that are easy to
miss. But one problem that is im-
possible to overlook has to do with
the overall structure of the plot. The
fact that Vincent is portrayed in the
Amadeus line of A Portrait of the
Artist as a Crude Disgusting Mad-
man is fine, and probably fairly ac-
curate. But where Milos Foreman
was able to wonderfully capture the
spirit of Mozart's music and the pas-

sions that drove him, Altman tells a
largely straightforward, often dull
biography, not delving nearly
enough under the surface into what
drove Vincent or why the symbiotic
relationship between Vincent and
Theo had to exist.
Altman instead chose to parallel
the lives of the two brothers. After
Vincent's lover leaves him, he has
the fairly typical reaction of staring
at himself in the mirror and painting
his own face. Meanwhile, this entire
scene is interspersed with cuts to
Theo's Parisian apartment, where his
girlfriend is also. leaving him and he,
of course, is smearing her lipstick
all over his face. Theo's eventual
wife, Jo (Johanna Ter Steege), best
describes their relationship when she
tells her husband, "I don't like your
mustache - and I'm sure Vincent
won't like it, either." "Vincent?"
Theo asks confusedly. "The baby,"
she bitterly responds, referring to
both their child, named after his ba-
bied brother, and to the title charac-
ter. "It scratches, you know."
While some of the more vibrant
and expressionistic scenes, such as
when Vincent is painting the famous
"Wheat Fields with Crows," work
extraordinarily well, others are al-
most laughable. "All I'm asking for
is a decent wage!" screams Theo at
the owners of his museum during
one of the more inane sub-plots.
Meanwhile, Vincent, lacking the
necessary character development to

Tim Roth does a fine job as Vincent van Gogh in Robert Altman's Vincent and Theo, but, unfortunately, the fine
acting cannot make up for a weak plot and a lack of character development. But you might want to see the film
anyway, since Crazy John Engler is gonna be shutting down the DIA pretty soon and they'll probably have to
sell off their van Gogh self-portrait to some Japanese yuppie.

make us understand him or even
care, lapses into almost a parody of
the brooding artist in the vein of
Woody Allen's "If the Impression-
ists Had Been Dentists" ("Gauguin
and I had another fight... He held my
head under the X-ray machine for ten
straight minutes and for several
hours after I could not blink my eyes
in unison. Now I am lonely.") His
jealousy, self-deprecation and reli-
gious torment is only briefly or su-

perficially touched upon; instead, we
come away with strong, but ulti-
mately shallow images of Vincent
doing things like sucking on a knife.
Similar problems arose in
1989's Camille Claudel, a film
about the French sculptress which
was weakened by its failure to con-
vey her passion. At least in the un-
fairly maligned Henry and June, we
got to see Henry Miller's motiva-
tions, and at any rate, the spirit of

van Gogh was much better captured
by Akira Kurosawa in the 10 minute
"Crows" segment of last year's
Dreams, which was as bright and
exciting as any of van Gogh's great-
est works. At the end of Vincent and
Theo, on the other hand, when a
lonely and desperate Theo cries,
"Vincent! Where are you? Help me!"
we're still not really sure why.

VINCENT AND THEO is being
shown at the Ann Arbor 1&2.

More

self-indulgent

lists

to a

Peter Shapiro's 10
best
Choose your own quote to sum
up the first year of the last decade
that humanity will roam the earth: a)
Dennis Hopper in Flashback: "The
'90s are going to be so intense,
they're gonna make the '60s look
like the '50s," or b) Hunter S.
Thompson: "The '90s are going to
be the '80s without money." If you
chose a), I've got a Wilson Phillips
bootleg to sell you. Without further
ado, here it goes:
1. Uranus and the Five Moons:
Shiny Black Stools (self-released
demo tape) - From the industrial
boomtown of Aurora, Illinois, these
five miscreants (who have since bro-
ken up and cut their hair - look for
Three Fingers Brown soon, though)
play the most shameless genre paro-
dies imaginable - Slayer-style
speed metal, sex taunts straight out
of David Coverdale's secret diaries,
sampled Frank Sinatra, cryptically-
titled minimalist instrumental freak-
outs ("Is Monroe Prep Ready for
Dan Garten") and brilliant Velvet
Underground send-ups ("Brigitte
Says"). As precise a statement of
alienated malaise and ennui as the
post-Reagan era is likely to produce.
2. Loketo: Soukous Trouble -
From Paris via Zaire, Loketo's brand
of soukous shakes much ass; even
the most lead-bottomed regular at
IPaycheck's in Hamtramck could
shake his/her booty to this state-of-
the-art disco. Lead guitarist Diblo

The best music of 1990

Dibala will be the guitar hero of the
next generation. His unbelievably
dextrous Afro-rhumba fret runs are
so stunning that my new disco wet
dream is that Nile Rogers grew up in
Kinshasa with an mbira instead of
riffing on the J.B. funk in the U.S.
of A.
3. Various: Freedom Fire - Al-
right, so the third installment of the
Indestructible Beat of Soweto is
nowhere near as good as the first
two, but it still grooves the pants
off of any commercially available
American conglomeration of toonz.
This mainly hymnal compilation
falls short because of the appearance
of Mahlathini on half the tracks. Not
that that is a bad thing by any
stretch of the imagination, but on
the first few listens it makes J.J.
Chauke and the Tiyimeleni Young
Sisters' "Madyisa Mbitsi" sound like
a second-rate imitation as opposed to
the standout track that it actually is.
And, of course, there is the appear-
ance of another Phillip Tabane and
Malombo track, on which he scats
like Al Jarreau just broken up with
his squeeze and drunk on a bathtub
full of gin.
4. Public Enemy: Fear of a Black
Planet - On paper, beginning and
ending a record with "Brothers
Gonna Work it Out" ("Contract on
the World Love Jam" is superfluous)
and "Fight the Power" should make
Fear of a Black Planetrrap's Astral

Weeks, or better yet the next It
Takes a Nation of Millions, instead
of the hip-hop version ofLet it Bleed
that it is. Just like the Stones' near
magnum opus (from "Gimme Shel-
ter" to "You Can't Always Get What
You Want"), P.E.'s near-miss is de-
stroyed by filler like "Reggie Jax"
and "Can't Do Nuthin' For Ya
Man." The thing is, though, that it
is the Bomb Squad's magnum opus
until half way through the second'
side. At this point, Chuck could rap
the script of a Cosby Show episode
and it would signify revolution.
5. A Tribe Called Quest: People's
Instinctive Travels and the Paths of
Rhythm - Sitars, Earth, Wind and
Fire, "Satisfaction, I've got the right

nnoy you
tactics/ And if you need 'em, I've
got crazy prophylactics" and LOU
REED!!!
6. Paris: "Break the Grip of Shame"
(12") Along with "Fight the
Power," Paris' debut is the most in-
cendiary and blatantly militant song
since "The Revolution Will Not Be
Televised" and "When the Revolu-
tion Comes." It's not only the lyrics
though; it's the plastic bass and the
staggering and corrosive James
Brown guitar riff. Dropped three
notches because the album sucks.
7. Deee-Lite: World Clique - What
other band could possibly get away
with celebrating the global village
and the age of communication with a
dance-floor utopianism so unabashed
See LISTS, Page 7

1014-1016 CHURCH STREET
908 OAKLAND
Now Leasing for 1991-1992 School Year-
Studios, One-, Two- and Three-Bedrooms.
Monthly rents as low as $480.00
CALL 462-6006, DAYS
996-1253, EVENINGS AND WEEKENDS

Most annoying band that was in heavy rotation on MTV this year :
without a doubt, the Soup Dragons. Early contender for 1991: Sean
Lennon's Peace Choir for "Give Peace a Chance or We Won't Stop
Singing This Lousy Song."
WRITE FOR ARTS! CALL 763-0379!

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