Saturday, July 3, 2010

How Dr Who Made Me Cry

 I'm not a real sci-fi kind of girl. I much prefer nearly any other genre of film or book to be perfectly honest, but now and then even I am drawn to aliens and time travel. I'd noticed on the BBC that Dr Who was featuring a plot wherein the good doctor and his ginger assistant, Amy, would be visiting Vincent van Gogh in France for an upcoming episode. While I may not be an aficionado of Dr Who, I am fanatical about van Gogh and so I had to watch.

I remember very clearly the first time I saw a real live (you know what I mean...) honest-to-goodness van Gogh at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I'd never seen anything like that before but I knew I loved it. His frantic, swirling brushstrokes, his love of color and the passion that absolutely flooded out of the painting--it was overwhelming. I then looked at pictures of his other works in the library (no internet back then, kiddies) and learned more about his life and grew to respect him even more. I do love a tortured genius (TE Lawrence is another of my favorite people ever) and van Gogh was certainly that. 

Anyway, back to the doctor. The episode opened with an exhibit of van Gogh pieces at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris with an uncredited and (as always) brilliant Bill Nighy as an art historian leading some tourists through the show. Dr Who and Amy recognize an alien within the window of one of the paintings (The Church at Auvers) and the travel back in time in the TARDIS to rural France ca1889. 

You'd be correct to assume that while things didn't go exactly according to plan, Dr Who, aided by van Gogh did eventually neutralize the capon-ish looking alien thereby making countryside safe for the villagers once again. But the twist--and what got me all choked up--was the end. Van Gogh was famously unappreciated during his lifetime so during the episode his friends from the future resolve to take him back to 2010 and show him how much his work has meant to the world. It's a little Capra-esque device that might sound cloying, but it wasn't, it was quite poignant. Once in the Musee d'Orsay van Gogh sees the throngs of people gathered to view his work and Dr Who himself even engineers it so Bill Nighy's character speaks to the great humanity and passion he sees in Vincent's work. Upon returning van Gogh to his own time, now knowing how beloved he will be, Amy believes that the artist will now not take his own life at 37 and will accumulate a large, new body of work. Dr Who knows better but they rush back to the museum to find nothing changed...van Gogh having died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the young age of 37. When Amy lashes out that they didn't save him or help him after all, the doctor replies to her with the comment that all of us have piles of good things and piles of bad things and that the trick is to not let the bad pile outweigh the good one. Dr Who reassures Amy that they definitely added to van Gogh's good pile.  A lovely sentiment, to be sure, as to how we impact on others, and vice versa, in large and small ways.

So there I was, all choked up over Dr Who--of all things--and half thinking how brilliant it would be to be able to go back, meet and spend time with artists or writers that we admire; the other half of me thinking how wonderful it would have been for van Gogh--and so many other talented artists, writers, poets, dreamers--to have known while they lived that someday the world world would come to appreciate their talents. As with van Gogh, I'm not sure that knowledge would really change anything, but it is an intriguing thought. 

I'll leave you with a little Vincent then, and a little Henry...The Olive Trees by van Gogh and A Day of Sunshine by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Two of my very favorites and I think they go very well together...van Gogh's painting, in some ways, bringing to even more realistic life, Longfellow's beautifully worded poem. Enjoy, and have a safe and happy Independence Day weekend!

(The Olive Trees)

A Day of Sunshine 

O gift of God! O perfect day,
Whereon shall no man work, but play;
Whereon it is enough for me,
Not to be doing, but to be!

Through every fibre of my brain,
Through every nerve, through every vein,
I feel the electric thrill, the touch
Of life, that seems almost too much.

I hear the wind among the trees
Playing celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument,

And over me unrolls on high
The splendid scenery of the sky,
Where through a sapphire sea the sun
Sails like a golden galleon,

Towards yonder cloud-land in the West,
Towards yonder Islands of the Blest,
Whose steep sierra far uplifts
Its craggy summits white with drifts.

Blow, winds! and waft through all the rooms
The snow-flakes of the cherry-blooms!
Blow, winds! and bend within my reach
The fiery blossoms of the peach

O Life and Love! O happy throng
Of thoughts, whose only speech is song
O heart of man! canst thou not be
Blithe as the air is, and as free?

1 comment:

Beth said...

Lovely post! I've never seen Dr. Who, but your words helped me picture the story so clearly. Vincent Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists also. Although he may not have known popularity, and his personal story is a sad one, I like to think he experienced great joy while in the process of creating his work.