MicroCinema // 2010 // 30 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // May 14th, 2011
The visionary artist and mythmaker.
Gauguin: Maker of Myth is a brief look at Paul Gauguin's art and life that is too short to truly be comprehensive and too narrowly focused to serve as even a thumbnail introduction. It was produced by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., as a companion to an exhibit of some of Gauguin's works. Consequently, it has the feel of a souvenir DVD that you would pick up in the gift shop after you've finished the exhibit and want something other than a T-shirt and a calendar. It's a nice memento, but certainly not much of a documentary in its own right.
As its title implies, Gauguin: Maker of Myth examines Gauguin's tendency to redefine himself and his surroundings according to his own desires. When he grew to love Peru after spending his childhood and teen years there, he later falsely claimed that he had Incan ancestry. When he decided to recast himself as a struggling artist, he abandoned his wife, two small children, and lucrative job as a stockbroker and moved to the pastoral French region of Brittany. When he moved to Tahiti expecting it to be an idyllic tropical paradise, he was disappointed to learn that it was little more than another French colonial slum. Nonetheless, in his most famous paintings, he depicted it as a paradise populated by "noble savages" (his words) who knew nothing of modern society. Throughout his life and artistic career, he displayed a talent for redefinition that was the hallmark of his work.
The documentary attempts to examine this aspect of Gauguin and relate it to his art. It actually does do a good job of explaining how Gauguin made mythmaking the centerpiece of his art. It demonstrates how his most famous paintings, such as The Midday Nap and Tahitian Women on the Beach, depict a Tahiti that had long ceased to exist years before he had even visited there, and were actually based on artworks from completely different countries, such as Egypt and New Zealand. Because it's so short, however, the documentary fails completely in explaining why Gauguin was this way. There's little biographical detail and you never get an idea of who Gauguin was as a person. The decision to leave his family behind to become an artist was surely not one to be taken lightly but at no point do you get an idea of how he decided on it, how it affected his art, or even whether or not he ever saw or spoke to his children again. Moreover, you never really get an idea of what Gauguin's life in Tahiti was really like. There are a few excerpts from his letters and diaries but these are so short and sparsely used that they raise more questions than answers. They hardly explain any of Gauguin's actions, and for a documentary that claims to examine his life and art, that's a huge oversight.
Gauguin: Maker of Myth, then, isn't really worth much. Far from serving as a good summation of Gauguin's life and career, it only narrowly focuses on one part of his artistic life and then doesn't even cover it in much detail. At a list price of $19.98, it's simply too overpriced to be worth buying. There are better and cheaper sources that examine the story of Gauguin's life and art that you should look for instead.
Technical specs are pretty standard: anamorphic widescreen transfer, stereo mix, both acceptable. The only extras are the featurette "Breton Idyll" (1:40), which is just a brief look at the music and culture of Brittany, and a gallery (4:15) of Gauguin's paintings set to music.
Guilty of being too short and superficial to be useful.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 30 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Paul Gauguin