Major Dundee Part One

major1I started writing a post about Sam Peckinpah’s oft-maligned and clearly broken 1965 Western, Major Dundee; I’d bought the recent Arrow 2-disc Blu-Ray, swayed into a rare blind-buy simply because of how gorgeous and finely curated the release is, as well my past affinity for and interest in both Peckinpah’s other films (chiefly Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, which itself was a sumptuous Arrow release awhile back) and those of Charlton Heston (for all the many Hollywood icon reasons, but also curiously having seen his Hollywood debut, Dark City not so long ago). My post started with a commentary about broken films and how Major Dundee fits into a particular group of films that includes Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil and it became evident it was bogging-down my actual comments regards Major Dundee, so I’ve decided to split the post into two: so here’s part one, and thoughts about broken films in general (hopefully Part Two will follow shortly).

There is clearly something seductive, for film lovers, regards broken films, or the films that never got made. In a way, its difficult to distinguish between the two because although Major Dundee got made, it clearly isn’t the film that Sam Peckinpah intended it to be. Hardcore fans of the director can no doubt wax lyrical regards what it could have been; the three-hour roadshow epic that would have been a Western intended to rival epics like Lawrence of Arabia, and Peckinpah’s subtle (or maybe not so subtle) inversion of the traditional Western hero and America’s usual rose-tinted myth of the Wild West. With films such as Major Dundee, it is at the heart of their fascination; the endless wondering about what might have been, what should have been, and the why: the latter is where the ranting comes in, and usually becomes a heated discourse about the dichotomy of the art and the business of film-making. 

Peckinpah himself was guilty of this, always bitterly blaming others regards the failure of Major Dundee, a revisionist commentary whenever he mentioned the film in the years after its release, when even the strongest of his apologists would accept he deserved much of the blame himself too, the film a troubled production. Its clear though that Peckinpah had valid reason to feel bitter- taken out of the editing suite, I can only imagine his horror when he only finally saw the finished film at its premiere. I haven’t watched all of the theatrical version, only initially watching the extended version and then later sampling the theatrical, but what I have seen of it with its awful Daniele Amfitheatrof soundtrack music is astonishingly bad. Its a good example of how a film can be ruined by a bad music score, as right from the main titles it turns the film into a bizarre parody of Peckinpah’s intentions. Just how derided and woeful this music score is, can possibly be construed from the fact that it was replaced by a new score by Christopher Caliendo in 2005 when the film was restored to that first assembly: there are likely other examples, but I cannot recall another case of a film getting its score totally replaced during a restoration. 

major3The extended cut that has become how we now watch Major Dundee is no directors cut- I understand from what I have seen/read that its a producers assembly from when Peckinpah was taken off the picture which was then further edited into what then became the theatrical. I’m always fascinated by alternate cuts of films, and how even the slightest alternate edits of scenes can change their meaning and tone and indeed the film itself, and not always for the better.    

A discussion regards broken films can get side-tracked by directors cuts and extended cuts of films- the home video boom of VHS, Laserdisc and DVD allowed for so many versions of films to be released and this actually saved some of the films and possibly damaged others. The assembly cut of Alien 3 is one of the best examples of a broken film being ‘saved’, but I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like -to the extent I can likely never rewatch it- the Redux version of Apocalypse Now, so its not the case that restorations and extended versions are always such a good thing. In any case, this isn’t what I’m really getting at with regards this post about broken films, and I’m concious not to get pulled into this particular hornets nest. Maybe there should be a distinction between ‘lost’ films, and those broken films which can be ‘fixed’ sometime later via restoration. Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons is gone, lost, and the film the subject of much adoration and grievance from those who appreciate what might have been. 

So getting back to Major Dundee and its status of being a film that ‘might have been/could have been…’ in just the same way as Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and so many other films where troubled production and disagreements/dissatisfaction from studios resulted in films not being everything they might have been. Very often the stories about the making of the films can be more interesting than the films themselves, and I’m confident I’m not alone in saying that the making of Major Dundee is possibly more fascinating than the film we have. Decades of tall-tales, rumours and hearsay only add to the myths surrounding some of these movies, and indeed any film-lover will have interest in the politics and friction surrounding the making of the films that work and are a success, never mind those that fell astray. Films are a uniquely collaborative medium, whatever the auteur theory that persists and is generally accepted. How much the director is author of a film is possibly a tangential discussion when examining broken films, but its a valid one: in the case of Peckinpah, Major Dundee‘s failure is usually attributed to others even by those who hold Peckinpah partly responsible too, but had Major Dundee been a perfect film, likely credit would have mostly, if not wholly, been given to the director. It is always Hitchcock’s Vertigo, or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, or Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Its curious that very often when films don’t work out as well as hoped, its not the directors total responsibility, there’s plenty of candidates subjected to blame (for my own part, I always feel the central part of what works or undermines a film is its screenplay- everything, the actors performances, the directors visual flair, is dependant on the foundation of a working and concise effective script, but its just as wrong to call it Hampton Fancher’s Blade Runner). I think I’m digressing into authorship of movies and I didn’t intend to.  

There is a tension between the business of making movies- a studio and its backers financing a film hoping to make a profit in return- and the art of making films, the creative team making a film worthy as a piece of entertainment and indeed possibly a work of art in itself. Sometimes both happens, sometimes one and not the other- bad films have made lots of money, great films have failed and made a loss. I have often stated that I don’t think anyone intentionally makes a bad film but I suppose in the real world, every project/film is a pay check and ones personal investment evidently varies. Film lovers generally -maybe rightly, who knows?- cite the creatives a the good guys and the studio brass as the bad guys, the ones who complicate matters citing budget and time overruns in the face of a directors efforts to make the perfect, best film he can. Its out of all this tension though that films flounder and fail, as films if not as products made for a profit. I mentioned in an earlier post the popularity of horror films as a genre when many if not most of the horror films made are very poor, but part of their popularity is how cheap they are to make, how easy they are to market and usually how that translates into something profitable.

major2So again, trying to get back to Major Dundee– its a film that had problems from the start, and its one of those films that was made without a finished script (which, if you consider my own thoughts regards how important a foundation a good screenplay is, speaks volumes), and I’m always surprised and aghast at how often that happens. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was being shot and Robert Wise didn’t have a finished script, the last third of the film was a blank, pretty much, and they made it up on the fly, mostly. Which seems an incredible thing considering the investment into what was such a major motion picture and no small reason why the film turned out as troubled as it did. So it was with Major Dundee in regards how the film starts very well- the first half, at least in the extended version, is a great entertaining film- but slowly fragments into a incoherent mess as it runs into its second half, with a very odd romantic element for Dundee that seems abruptly thrown in from some other movie, and very messy finale with characters suddenly acting very strangely (probably because whole scenes have been cut or never even shot). Cutting the budget and production schedule and shooting it in a very difficult location were only part of the films problems, as was feuding actors and its drunk and antagonistic director but hey, the making of Major Dundee would make a great picture in itself. 

Part Two of this review of Major Dundee will follow…

The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

lady2I first watched this film back in 2017, when I bought the Indicator Blu-ray- I didn’t write a review about it at the time because I honestly didn’t know what to make of the film. I decided to wait for a second viewing, not realising that it would take as long as it has, but having just seen Rita Hayworth in the brilliant Gilda it seemed its time had come at last.

Second time around then, what did I think? Well, I think I’m in about the same frame of mind as I was first time around: there’s something very wrong with Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai, a film that continuously veers from melodrama to farce, is peppered by brilliance but seems to waste all its promise as it routinely slips from jittery noir to black comedy to unconvincing romance to weak drama, as if there’s four different films fighting for dominance and none of them wins.

The thing I love, and find endlessly fascinating, regards film noir is that for the most part, however stylised they may be with expressionistic, nightmarish lighting etc, they are gritty, down-to-earth, realistic tales with believable, albeit flawed characters. Very often the worlds of the 1940s and 1950s may look and sound very different from our own but they are always convincing, there is always a sense of truth to them. The Lady of Shanghai deliberately bucks this approach, as if Welles was deliberately usurping Hollywood tropes, to the point at which the courtroom sequence towards the end is practically a mockery of Hollywood courtroom scenes (really, it almost seems disrespectful). The main characters, too, are far from realistic- quirky, camp, irreverent and often annoying, they don’t feel ‘real’ at all (what in the world is going on with Glenn Anders monstrously misjudged George Grisby, a central character to the plot who grates throughout?). Its hard to empathise with what is essentially a freakshow, and harder still to believe anything they do or say.

The central problem I have with the film, and its a fundamental one that it can never really recover from, is the frankly bizarre performance by Orson Welles in the role of the central protagonist, Michael O’Hara. I’m not exactly sure what Welles was trying for, and believe that as he was the writer, producer and (the oddly uncredited) director of the film, perhaps he should have hired another actor better suited for the role. He’s really pretty awful as the Irish adventurer, utterly unconvincing and painful to watch: I just didn’t ‘get’ him at all: perhaps individual mileage varies, but its hard for a film to recover when central casting derails everything. I suspect that Welles was being deliberately contrary, an intellectual approach to the role perhaps that doesn’t at all come off. Chiefly its the odd accent but to be honest, there is something wrong with the character in general: aloof, noncommittal, he doesn’t feel convincing, and most  damning of all, there seems little if any chemistry between Welles and Hayworth, who were married at the time (albeit estranged, I understand) – perhaps the state of their failing marriage surfaced in their performances. As it is, the lack of chemistry is like a black hole at the heart of the film, for all the pouting and panting Hayworth attempts here (compared to the sexual fireworks between Hayworth and Ford demonstrated in Gilda, its a bleak chasm that the film can’t climb out of).

Hayworth, of course, was ‘the Love Goddess’ of 1940s Hollywood, and her transformation from Gilda to how she appears here as femme fatale Elsa Bannister is quite astonishing, and indeed caused some consternation at the time. Gone were Hayworth’s long red locks, replaced with a short platinum-blonde hairstyle – she looks like the archetype for Kim Novak’s Madeleine from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Considering that this film came out just a year after Hayworth’s seminal role as Gilda in Charles Vidor’s classic noir, the change is breathtakingly brave (or recklessly foolish as studio head Harry Cohn believed, horrified by what Welles had done to his star performer).

Alas, Elsa isn’t nearly as fascinating as Madeleine would be a decade or so later. Certainly Hayworth is as beautiful as ever, but the character is underwritten and I suspect this too was deliberate by Welles, bucking the traditional femme fatale role. Hayworth isn’t given anything with which to chew up the noir scenery as the scheming temptress the film needs her to be. Partly this issue is down to enabling the ‘twist’ that it doesn’t want us to see coming, but this scuppers what could have been a memorable and even iconic role – Hayworth looks the part but has to play a trapped wife and insipid, romantically frustrated victim for most of it. If she’d been more of a traditional femme fatale it might have helped Welles’ Irishman to have been more convincing, too, his role then more of a traditional luckless noir hero seduced by a beautiful woman- but again, Welles isn’t making that kind of noir here. 

Welles, perhaps true to his own nature rather than as professionally workmanlike as he should have been, wasn’t looking to be traditional, and this is hardly traditional noir (brave indeed perhaps but when it undermines a film working as well as it should, perhaps actually pretty foolish). The fact that this film even IS noir is mostly down to its remarkable, visually audacious ending in a hall of mirrors (if you haven’t seen it, you’ve certainly seen some film mimicking it). After the failure of Citizen Kane and Welles subsequent loss of final cut and his troubled films after, its unfortunate that Welles couldn’t just make a more traditional, ordinary, moody noir. I’m sure it would have been spectacular (Kane itself is proof enough of that). But for some reason -likely sheer ego, it was Welles, after all- Welles seemingly couldn’t be a director for hire and play by the rules, he had to do his own thing like some crazy maverick in the studio system. Inevitably, he wouldn’t be able to find work in that studio system for long; this, the man who made Citizen Kane, arguably the finest (certainly most influential) film of all time. Turns out Welles was probably his own noir hero; how ironic is that, on the evidence of the horribly flawed The Lady From Shanghai?  



Columbia Noir: Affair in Trinidad (1952)

affairSo after a bit of an hiatus we return to Indicator’s excellent Columbia Noir #2 boxset with a rather curious entry. Affair in Trinidad is clearly a bit of a mess: its a noir severely hampered by it being primarily a somewhat cynical vehicle for its star, Rita Hayworth, who had returned to Hollywood following a failing marriage. Hayworth at this point was a genuine superstar (tagged ‘the Love Goddess’ in the 1940s) having worked with the likes of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Orson Welles and had a hit with Trinidad co-star Glenn Ford with noir classic Gilda in 1946- I mention the latter because Trinidad was practically a remake of that film, apparently.  And here I’m at a disadvantage, mainly because I don’t believe I have seen any of Hayworth’s films (other than The Lady From Shanghai, which I really must watch again) so I am neither familiar with Hayworth’s charms nor her reputation as one of Hollywood’s biggest and most popular actresses of her era. Likewise, references in Affair in Trinidad to Gilda are wholly lost on me as I’ve not seen it, although it seems clear two song/dance-numbers that awkwardly bookend the film are a large part of that. 

Glenn Ford, who has impressed so much in earlier noir featured in these box sets, is sadly relegated to supporting actor with an underwritten part that gives him sorely little to work with other than immediately fall in love with Hayworth’s widow and rage with jealousy when he thinks she is charming a rival. There is a curious meta-story wherein the two actors had a real-life on/off affair that lasted decades- indeed, the real-life story of a superstar retuning to Hollywood and her on/off relationship with her leading man (and trying to recapture the success of a classic film of just a few years prior) all seems juicy enough to be the subject of a noir of its own, or indeed a film in the vein of Sunset Boulevard.  However Affair in Trinidad is itself largely a misfire: it lacks any real tension, and the sparks between Hayworth and Ford feel sudden and forced (Hayworth’s character is married to Ford’s brother, but when Ford arrives to discover his brother died just a few days prior to his arrival, he grieves for five minutes then falls madly in love with Hayworth- wholly formulaic and unconvincing, ironic considering their purported real-life chemistry). 

Indeed, it struck me that perhaps the most noir thing in the whole film is how, by the films end, that Hayworth’s husband/Ford’s brother has been utterly forgotten and doesn’t even get any mention when the bad guys who apparently killed him are brought to justice. Watching the finale, my wife commented “but what about her husband, why did they kill him?” asking a question the film totally forgets to answer. It suggests the laziness with which the film was made, its plot hastily drawn together from pieces of perhaps Gilda and other dramas of the period.

Its not that I didn’t enjoy the film- it has good, often moody cinematography and an excellent score by George Duning that drives the plot onwards and attempts to intensify any atmosphere/tension – indeed this music score really impressed me, reminded me of 1970s John Williams, oddly enough, which made the film feel rather ‘modern’ to me. Curiously, Duning also wrote the score for The Mob, the previous film in this set and a score that I was also taken by. But these elements aren’t enough to save a film that feels awkward, and which clearly needs a better script. Mind you, Affair in Trinidad would prove to be Columbia’s biggest hit of 1952 so what do I know? I guess the public could forgive the film anything as long as it brought Rita Hayworth back to their cinema screens.

The Cranes Are Flying (1957)

cranes1The best love stories are the sad ones, the ones of unrequited love or tragic love, the ones in which lovers do not skip happily into a rosy dawn or sultry sunset. What makes La La Land such a genuine pleasure (and its not lost on me, the strangeness of referencing La La Land when opening this review of Mikhail Kalatozov’s astonishing 1957 film), is that La La Land‘s ending is so bittersweet and tinged with such sadness, the lovers forever parted, the ending suddenly giving the film some meaning, some resonance, some weight, transforming everything we have seen before, its romantic, Hollywood-musical saccharine-soaked sweetness given sudden counterpoint.  There is no sweetness in The Cranes Are Flying, or if there is, its fleeting. This is a powerful and almost Shakespearean love story (I often thought of the doomed lovers of Romeo and Juliet during the film), and would be memorable if only for that. What makes the film a revelation, however, is in its execution, the sheer bravura on display in a richly cinematic experience.

The camerawork in this film is just breath-taking in its audacity. Sometimes it is breathlessly intimate, extreme close-ups with faces filling the frame, so much so you almost imagine you could feel their breath, and at others the camera lifts up and away, pulling back to reveal vast, crowd-filled scenes that spring to mind the work of Sergio Leone or David Lean. A few moments it almost pulled me out of the movie, mentally considering the difficulty in organising/rehearsing/executing such complex visual choreography. And then there are the other times, when the camera is like a thing alive, wildly kinetic and racing through scenes breathlessly, mirroring the emotional state of the character/s. 

It was a similar experience to first watching Orson Welles’ classic Citizen Kane so many years ago- the sense of witnessing consummate film-making, bold experimentation in story-telling, Pure Cinema.

It left The Cranes Are Flying feeling very modern, here in 2020. What it must have seemed like when it first came out and in the early 1960s, I cannot really fathom, but I can imagine it seemed quite astonishing.  In a sense, its a film out of time, permanently detached from when it was created: one of those films that we describe as timeless. Most films made today lack the creativity and imagination displayed in this films every frame. Maybe that’s just as well- if every film were made like this, it would be exhausting.

cranes4Even above this amazing film-making stands the intensely impressive performance of Tatiana Samoilova as Veronica, the lover left at home while her fiancé Boris (Alexi Batalov) goes off to war. Samoilova dominates the film, a performance which refuses to be overshadowed by that incredible camera. She is a dark beauty at times aloof and beguiling, at others dark and gloomy, at others a wild fury, but always she is enchanting. Something in her eyes, perhaps. In any case, its remarkable that she holds her own against all the impressive film-making at play throughout this film. I wonder what she was like in her other films.

The Cranes Are Flying is clearly one of my best discoveries of 2020; I am always heartened by making such discoveries, thinking of all those great films out there that I have not yet seen, and perhaps also a little sad realising all those great films I will never see.

So what is The Cranes Are Flying? As readers may have gathered, its a Russian film, made in the post-Stalin era in 1957, when film-makers were enjoying new creative freedom. The film is a romance, a tale of a love affair swept up in Russia’s headlong rush into war. Its well-written, with clearly defined characters and, as I have noted, breath-takingly shot. Nearly every scene is beautiful to look at, exquisitely framed. The two lovers, Veronica and Boris, are seen at the beginning of the film blissfully unaware of the doom fast approaching, and the world events that will tear them apart. After a night out together, morning has come, and as they walk the deserted streets towards home, they notice a flock of cranes flying, high in the sky, and plan another date which never comes. The framing of every shot hints at the care and attention attached to this film.

cranes2Their affair is no secret, but as if guilty of how late it is, they each furtively return to their respective family homes, and in the interactions with their family members the film perfectly establishes the various relationships and dynamics in economical fashion. War is coming, and out of patriotic duty, Boris enlists, much to his fathers horror. Veronica is perhaps last to learn. 

After a remarkably-shot sequence in which Boris and his fellow recruits gather to depart, and Veronica vainly rushes past tanks and through crowds to say goodbye, the film chiefly stays with Veronica and the home-front, only briefly switching across to Boris’ sobering experiences on the front line. It is clear that Veronica and her experiences are the focus of the film, rather than those of her lover. Partly this is to maintain the mystery that Veronica feels, unable to find news regards whether Boris is alive. Two seperate air-raids devastate Veronica; the first costing her her parents, the second her personal dignity at the hands of Boris’ cousin Mark who is obsessed with claiming Veronica for himself (this a particularly expressionist sequence which is one of the most impressive of any film I have ever seen, a purely cinematic representation of almost apocalyptic sexual violence and quite horrifying). Veronica is left broken and lost and yearning for her lover, suffering the many deprivations of the civilians back home as war threatens to ruin everything and everyone. 

cranes3When the end comes, its one that makes perfect sense, and totally works, even if it feels rather brutal and quite devastating. I’d vainly hoped for a positive outcome, and while the film manages to end with a life-affirming sentiment, nonetheless its quite tragic (“well, that was depressing” commented Claire as the last scene faded out). Its not the end that I imagine most viewers are hoping for, but its perfect, really, considering what has come before. One can’t just help wishing for one more scene, one final coda with a happier outcome. I wonder if The Cranes Are Flying is one of those films in which, on subsequent viewings, one always has that vain hope, in spite of the knowledge of how the film really ends, a forlorn wish that lingers against the reality. The best love stories rarely end well.


The retro ecstasy of The Vast of Night

vastThe Vast of Night is a glorious throwback to sci-fi of old; deliberately set in 1950s small-town America on the desert border with New Mexico, a setting which evokes all the paranoia of that period which informed all those old b-movies of alien menace and Russian Cold War threat. Taking place (almost in real-time, 1917-style) over one long night in a deserted town (the majority of the towns populace at the High School watching a basketball game) it promotes its low budget as its biggest asset- almost like a radio play, everything is suggested, never shown, characters recounting events like campfire horror tales, callers describing things over the telephone or to the radio show. Something is in the night sky, we are told, something unexplained and hidden. People are disappearing.

The retro styling is reinforced by the film being framed as a television programme: the film begins as a slow pull-in towards an old, 1950s-style CRT screen as it begins an episode of ‘Paradox Theatre‘, complete with a Twilight Zone-homage title sequence and Rod Serling narration. We are pulled into the b&w screen, and its grainy monochrome image only gradually resolves into a colour image, although it always maintains its grainy quality. Occasionally, the film fades to black, as if breaking for commercials/’a word from our sponsor!’ before resuming.

And yet, for all its 1950s-television sensibilities, the film does maintain some very impressive, modern twists: the opening sequence is one long single take (possibly a faux-single take, like those of 1917, I’m not sure- its tempting to guess where the cuts and joins might be) as the camera follows the main characters from High School gymnasium and halls, through car parks and streets, breathlessly trying to keep up with both their hurried stroll and their rapid-fire conversation. A later shot takes us all through the town in, again, one apparent single take, from the High School and the streets and backyards to the radio station, brilliantly establishing both the geography of the films setting and the emptiness and deserted feel of the characters milieu. It feels incredibly authentic: considering its very low budget, the film brilliantly evokes its period setting.

vast2It reminded me a little of John Carpenters The Fog, a film that also made its low budget its biggest asset,  particularly recalling that films opening campfire scene and John Houseman’s ghost story which so vividly established the films atmosphere and old-school credentials. Another similarity to The Fog is the use of the radio station and DJ as a central narrative device to move the mystery forward, and describe events rather than see them. The biggest similarity to this of course is Orson Welles’ radioplay of The War of the Worlds, which fooled many of its nation that its events were all real.  Suggestion is most always better than physically showing something in a horror film, a little at odds with how the genre gradually became increasingly graphic over the years, resorting to visual gory excess to shock. While The Vast of Night is perhaps more a cold war/paranoia sci-fi thriller rather than a horror film, it is (mostly) all suggestion, using many Twilight Zone-like tricks to let the viewer’s imagination to do most of the work.

I found it a refreshing approach and a nostalgic nod to all those b&w b-movies I watched and loved as a kid (as well as those tv shows The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits). Curiously, I can’t imagine the film coming out at a more timely moment than during this Covid19 crisis we are living in; the films sense of isolation and fear of the unseen being quite perfect for late-night viewing right now. In that sense, The Vast of Night is absolutely perfect.

The Vast of Night is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

Loving Vincent (2017)

vinc1A breathtaking film, visually, this is the first oil-painted animated feature and looks quite unlike anything else, the intention being to make it look like Vincent van Gogh’s own paintings come to life, as if serving a way to get inside the artists mind. Essentially the medium becomes the message.

The narrative is framed as a mystery, which takes place a year or so following Vincent’s death, believed to be a suicide after the troubled artist shot himself.  Joseph Roulin, Postmaster of Arles, the subject himself of a portrait by Vincent, sets his son Armand on a mission to deliver Vincent’s last letter to his brother, Theo. Armand reluctantly goes first to Paris, and then Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent spent his last days as his quest leads him to investigate the truth behind Vincent’s death.

The story isn’t really about any ‘truth’ that Armand discovers, but rather the journey, as the film lives and breathes in van Gogh’s paintings and features characters either historical or captured within the original paintings. Armand listens to different people who recall Vincent and his last days and their conflicting beliefs and points of view. It builds a portrait of a troubled soul and genius and offers us a glimpse of the man and his work. The cumulative beauty of the artwork and the haunting score by Clint Mansell makes the whole film something of an enchantment.

vinc3Its very interesting and quite arresting. It reminded me very much of Orson Welle’s classic , Citizen Kane, in which it offers up these points of view and lets us decide on what it all means, if anything, as if any life could be captured and explained in one film. In a way the story itself is almost incidental, the imagery is what leaves the most lasting impression, somehow giving us an idea of how Vincent saw the world.  Its really looks quite extraordinary and the film becomes a work of art all by itself. Quite remarkable.