The central theme of every great work of art is pain. Whether it is the artist’s own troubled life, or the tumultuous times in which they lived, art has always been a reflection of their circumstances. Great inspiration comes from unique events and as we’ve mentioned previously, inspiration is the kind of thing that makes the world go round. We’ve compiled a list of 7 art films that we think are some of the best at showcasing the artists and their lives.
1. Andrei Rublev (1966) – Andrey Tarkovsky
The second of Tarkovsky’s epics is loosely based on the life of 15th-century Russian painter and Orthodox saint, Andrei Rublev. The titular character is played by Anatoly Solonitsyn, and the film consists of 15 novellas, broken up into 7 chapters, illustrating different periods in the artist’s life. The film is shot in black and white, turning to color only at the end to highlight the artist’s work. Tarkovsky’s signature long takes help convey a contemplative mood, and the film is full of visual symbolism as allegory for the Soviet regime of the time.
2. Basquiat (1996) – Julian Schnabel
Based on the life of New York-based painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, the film follows the artist from his street graffiti days to world-renowned painter. The Cheat Sheet revealed that the film depicts his life as an artist living on the streets and his discovery by Andy Warhol. Basquiat is played by actor Jeffrey Wright and the star-studded cast includes David Bowie as Andy Warhol, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe and Parker Posey.
3. Lust for Life (1956) – Vincente Minelli
Described by Taste of Cinema as the quintessential Hollywood biopic about the quintessential tortured artist, the film follows the life of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Played by Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas, the film is based on the novel of the same name by Irving Stone. It depicts the artist’s transformation into a painter, his tortured life as well as his friendship with fellow French painter Paul Gauguin, played by Anthony Quinn. Beautifully rendered the film was shot on location in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
4. Edvard Munch (1976) – Peter Watkins
The docudrama tells the story of the great Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. The film covers a ten year period from 1884-1894, including flashbacks to his childhood and the moment his mother dies. Director Peter Watkins uses his unique style throughout the film which renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman called a “masterpiece.” Munch is played by Swedish actor Geir Wetsby and he delivers a brilliant performance. Munch’s is known for his iconic painting “The Scream,” which much like Van Gogh’s art was not widely appreciated at the time.
5. Big Eyes (2014) – Tim Burton
In a departure from his usual dark and gothic fare, director Tim Burton’s art fraud film is a slow burn story of abuse. Centered on Walter and Margaret Keane, played by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, the heroine is a kitsch artist of the 1960s who deliberately went unrecognized for years because she agreed to let her husband take the credit for her work. Sheila O’Malley in her review for RobertEbert.com noted that the film was full of questions about “the meaning of art, the concept of popularity and what it means to develop a huge audience”. Amy Adams was perfectly cast as the unfairly treated Margaret Keane. Her nuanced performance showcased why she is one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood and why she has won numerous accolades, including the American Cinematheque award last year even though she has come under recent criticism, according to this Entertainment Daily feature. The award celebrates the work and career of filmmakers, and Adams was a deserving recipient for her many great performances including that of Margaret Keane.
6. The Blood of a Poet (1932) – Jean Cocteau
Best described as a selection of allegories, the film is shot in four distinct segments, which highlight a theme of danger in the life of an artist. Much like the surrealist paintings of his contemporaries, the film is a reflection of the surrealist movement of the period. Cocteau was part filmmaker, part painter and part writer, and the film is a perfect example of this and can be seen as a mirror-image of his own life. Surreal and overflowing with imagery and spoken verse, the film is a unique work of art.
7. Camille Claudel (1988) – Bruno Nuytten
The film centers on the life of famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin and his love affair with his muse, Camille Claudel. The film highlights the emotional tone of the relationship between Rodin played by Gerard Depardieu and Camille played by Isabelle Adjan perfectly. With Depardieu’s and Adjani’s electrifying performances set to a score of four orchestral suites by famous composer Gabriel Yared, the film is a classic masterpiece.