Saturday, July 23, 2016

Pieter van Huystee's art documentary opens--HIERONYMUS BOSCH: TOUCHED BY THE DEVIL

In art appreciation classes throughout much of the world, and for decades now, I would guess -- this was certainly true in my day, anyway -- it was always the work of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch that woke up many of us sleepyheads, who might have nodded off during the lectures on GiottoTitianGoya and, hell, even Rembrandt. But Bosch? Never. That work was just too bizarre -- something like the most imaginative X-rated sci-fi fantasy wonderland of pain and evil you could imagine back then. (Even now, too.) With all the current special CGI effects at their beck and call, I am not sure that today's filmmakers have ever quite outdone old Hieronymus -- the death of whom some 500 years ago we celebrate in 2016.

Which brings us to the new documentary by Pieter van Huystee (shown at right; this is his first time as director, after some 80 producing credits), which is all about that art, the artist, and some of the men and women art experts, archivists and curators who explore, treasure and guard that work today. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: TOUCHED BY THE DEVIL is an informative, occasionally surprising and sometimes slow-moving (sleepyheads who watch it may undergo anew their art-history class experience) look at Bosch's art and the question of its attribution. (There evidently were lots of artists in the Bosch family.)

As we learn via explanatory titles at the film's beginning, only 25 paintings by Hieronymus are known to still exist, and his home town of Den Bosch is celebrating the anniversary with a major exhibition at its Noordbrabants Museum-- except that the city and museum actually possess none of his art. This means running around the world to beg and borrow various works from places such as The Prado in Spain; in Venice, Italy; and larger museums in The Netherlands.

Also on the visitation list is a relatively unknown museum here in the USA, which wonders, via some surprise communication, if it might possess a so-far unheralded work by Bosch. As the documentary unfolds, we meet and spend some time with a few of the art experts who, thanks to the latest technology (they can tell whether a painting was executed by a right-handed or left-handed artist), make pretty good judgment calls as to the authenticity of various pieces of art. The results of of their "calls" will surprise you (as it no doubt did some of the museums who house these would-be Bosches).

The experts are identified by name in the doc, though we don't get to learn very much about them. We are also made privy to some of their conversation -- too much of it, actually -- which is part of what slows the movie down. But we also pick up some interesting info about the artist and the work itself: Bosch's use of owls (thought in that day to be the devil's birds) and how his experience as a child during one of his city's major fire's was expressed so often in his paintings.

There's a little suspense along the way regarding The Prado and the possibility of a "loan" (Italy proves more helpful than Spain in that area), and of course all that authentification business. TrustMovies also learned more than he'd known previously about a certain Bosch triptych and an unfortunate woman who became "The Bearded Saint."

Also, and once again, we're confronted with that nagging question of why hell, along with its enticements and discontents, is so much more interesting and fun than heaven. Bosch painted them both, but he lavished infinitely much more time and detail on the former, while the latter looks mostly -- as usual -- generic.  Somewhat slow and sleepy overall, the documentary is redeemed by its close-up look at the paintings, as well as by what we learn about how these experts accomplish what they do.

From Kino Lorber and running 87 minutes, Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil, after screening last week at DC's National Gallery of Art, has its U.S. theatrical premiere this Wednesday, July 27, in New York City at Film Forum for a two-week run, then hits Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal on August 5, with appearances scheduled for ten other cities in the weeks to come. Click here (then click on PLAYDATES) to view all currently scheduled cities and theaters. 

No comments: