Arts » General Arts

The tortured artist: "Modigliani" (DVD)

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A few months ago, NUVO's intrepid web editor, Laura McPhee, posted a clip from 2004's Modigliani (starring Andy Garcia) on her Facebook page, calling the five-minute excerpt "her kind of porn."

I watched the clip. I liked it. About six weeks ago, I joined Netflix after housesitting for friends with nicer stuff than I own. Last night, I added Modigliani to my instant queue. I saw the former excerpt in context.

I get the porn thing now.

Artists. Wine. Rain. Paris in 1920. Strained relationships. Addiction. Phrases like “Make your point, Spaniard.” Ah! The tragedy was delicious.

Before watching the film, I knew nothing of Modigliani besides his style of painting. I didn’t know he was 36 when he died, that he had a child and wife, that he and Picasso did not get along. I was taken in within minutes of the movie beginning, from Modi — as the artist was known to his friends — jumping on a table to announce his arrival at a café. (I don’t care if that was fictional; it was sexy.) I spent the two hours absorbing details of his life and now want to know more about his history.

When Miriam Margolyes, the actress portraying Gertrude Stein, appeared, I fairly squealed. I recently read a little about her life in Paris, about her salon that featured work by Picasso and Matisse, about some of the writers whom she knew, like Hemingway. I try to imagine a life like that, where painters and scribes who are world famous now formed friendships and drew support for their work. It makes me want to start my own artists’ salon to see what happens. At the very least, we can drink a lot of red wine. It’s for, um, research.

If you’re looking for a good art film rife with complications — we’re talking hallucinations, people locked in insane asylums, religious bigotry, censorship, early deaths, and what appeared to be a gay geisha party — this is the film for you. I’ve a handful of stars and I’m giving them all to Modigliani.

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