Vincent van Gogh is once again placed under the microscope by the film world. On this occasion, it is by Diving Bell and the Butterfly director, and erstwhile painter, Julian Schnabel. Whilst van Gogh has been represented innumerable times on the big screen in the past, this time the baton is handed over to the reliably versatile Willem Dafoe. The actor turned out at the Venice Film Festival to chat all things van Gogh, including playing this famous figure in At Eternity’s Gate.
THE BOOK – “One of the things that Julian asked me to do was to look at this White Smith book, ‘Van Gogh: The Life’ by Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh. He said, ‘look at it and write some notes. Anything that interests you. Anything that strikes you’. A lot of his letters that I sampled were beautiful. He was absolutely inspiring and absolutely lucid in what he talked about. I related to it very much. Lucidity? No question.”
THE OTHERS – “I think the difficulties came where he had this special vision and he couldn’t quite reconcile how to share it with people. The more prosaic things like career, social things, sexual things: that was the struggle. What I think inspired me is that he was beyond dualistic thinking. He could really get past it.”
THE CHRISTIANITY – “He thought the Bible was the best book ever written. He grew up religious. He thought about being a minister. Many things that he says in that scene (talking to the priest) are from things he wrote. He says many things about Christ. He said the Lord Christ is ‘a little crazy’. But that’s not in the movie. He said that ‘Christ was a workman’. Did he identify in the correct way? No, but he had sympathies with him.”
ME AND JULIAN – “The most important thing was I knew I was going to be painting. I’ve known Julian for over 30 years. I like being around him. I like how he makes things. As he taught me things about painting, I had a shift in my way of seeing that was really crucial. It was a shift that became the key to having a deeper feeling for some of the things I was doing in the film: my relationship to nature and some of the things Van Gogh said.”