Watch Willem Dafoe Become Vincent Van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s New Film, At Eternity’s Gate

We know Julian Schn­abel for work­ing in two forms: paint­ing and film. His work in both has more con­nec­tion than it might at first seem, since most of his films are about art, or at least about artists. After mak­ing it big in the art world him­self in the late 1970s and 1980s with his sig­na­ture large-scale can­vass­es incor­po­rat­ing a wide vari­ety of mate­ri­als, he got behind the cam­era in 1996 to direct Basquiat, a biopic on the epony­mous graf­fi­ti-artist-turned-painter. In the 2000s he fol­lowed it up with Before Night Falls, about Cuban poet Reinal­do Are­nas, and The Div­ing Bell and the But­ter­fly, about a French mag­a­zine edi­tor turned writer after a stroke left him “locked” inside his own head. (At that same time he also shot a Lou Reed con­cert film, a song from which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.)

Now Schn­abel has brought his film­mak­ing career back to where he start­ed it with anoth­er film about anoth­er painter, a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure in his day, whose influ­ence grew after his ear­ly death. At Eter­ni­ty’s Gate depicts the final days in the life of Dutch Post-Impres­sion­ist Vin­cent van Gogh, cast­ing in the role no less a thes­pi­an than Willem Dafoe, known for play­ing every­one from T.S. Eliot to Pier Pao­lo Pasoli­ni to Jesus of Nazareth.

Though he has already lived a much longer life than Van Gogh ever did, Dafoe no doubt has the skills to use that in the per­for­mance’s favor, trans­mit­ting the way that the painter saw more deeply into the world around him than any­one else did and got labeled a mad­man for it. And yes, there was also the mat­ter of his ear, from which the trail­er above assures us that Schn­abel’s film does­n’t shy away.

But At Eter­ni­ty’s Gate clear­ly focus­es on Van Gogh’s strug­gle to pur­sue his art, accord­ing to his per­son­al vision, in an unre­cep­tive time and place. “Rather than sim­ply sug­gest that mad­ness and genius are inex­tri­ca­bly linked, as count­less movies of this sort have already done, the film­mak­er por­trays the act of cre­at­ing art as less an action and more a state of being, an ever-flow­ing stream that the man hold­ing the paint­brush is pow­er­less to stop or even con­trol,” writes Indiewire’s Michael Nor­dine. “Watch­ing the artist at work and hear­ing noth­ing but his rapid brush­strokes as the wind howls in the back­ground is med­i­ta­tive, even mes­mer­ic.” Schn­abel’s film fol­lows last year’s Lov­ing Vin­cent, which told Van Gogh’s sto­ry with ani­ma­tion made entire­ly of oil paint­ings. Its suc­cess, and the acclaim that has so far come in for At Eter­ni­ty’s Gate in advance of its wide release in Novem­ber, sup­ports one obser­va­tion in par­tic­u­lar made by Dafoe-as-Van Gogh: “Maybe God made me a painter for peo­ple who aren’t born yet.”

via IndieWire

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Near­ly 1,000 Paint­ings & Draw­ings by Vin­cent van Gogh Now Dig­i­tized and Put Online: View/Download the Col­lec­tion

New Ani­mat­ed Film About Vin­cent Van Gogh Will Be Made Out of 65,000 Van Gogh-Style Paint­ings: Watch the Trail­er and Mak­ing-Of Video

Watch as Van Gogh’s Famous Self-Por­trait Morphs Into a Pho­to­graph

Van Gogh’s 1888 Paint­ing, “The Night Cafe,” Ani­mat­ed with Ocu­lus Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Soft­ware

The Vin­cent Van Gogh Action Fig­ure, Com­plete with Detach­able Ear

Lou Reed Sings “Sweet Jane” Live, Julian Schn­abel Films It (2006)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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