Bio-pics can be fascinating, especially if the pictures tell bios of those real-life people that are still (relatively) unknown to us.
Face it: No more Marilyn or Sinatra or JFK or Warhol cinematic insights.
And that’s where Olive Films comes into place.
Next month, Olive offers three biographical films that demand to be seen.
And, please, get the tissues at hand.
Vincent & Theo (1990, Blu-ray & DVD)
Tim Roth is Vincent and Paul Rhys is Theodorus (“Theo”), the brothers Van Gogh in Robert Altman’s masterful biographical film. Filmed on location in the Netherlands and Paris where Vincent painted many of his works, Vincent and Theo delves inside the mind of the artist, who, while battling his inner demons created some of the greatest works of art the world has seen. Struggling in obscurity and debt, Vincent finds support from his younger brother Theo, an art gallery owner whose financial and emotional support allowed his brother to devote himself entirely to painting, and whose mission was to announce Vincent’s genius to the world.
And, please, keep in mind that Theo died at the age of 33 (of dementia paralytica, a syphilitic infection of the brain), six months after his brother died at 37.
Dispensing with the usual biographical film trappings, iconoclast director Robert Altman uses laser sharp focus provides a fresh perspective when viewing the life of an artist through his lens .
Some more minutiae: Vincent & Theo was originally a four-hour BBC mini-series, but Altman and writer Julian Mitchell were able to pare it down to two and a half hours by focusing on Vincent’s later years. They saved money by hiring art students to reproduce Van Gogh’s masterpieces.
Chattahoochee (1989, Blu-ray & DVD)
In 1955, Korean veteran Emmett Foley (portrayed by Gary Oldman) had a breakdown and was incarcerated in the maximum security Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, Florida. After witnessing inhumane abuse, Foley attempts suicide, before becoming an unlikely crusader, fighting to change a system that allowed the doctors and staff to brutalize their patients.
Foley is a fictional character, but is based on the real life story of Chris Calhoun—who suffered from what now is known as post-traumatic stress syndrome—and the brutality he witnessed and experienced as a patient.
Calhoun was able to let the public known about the hospital’s “hellish prison atmosphere” through letters he wrote that were passed outside by visitors and friendly staff. The events he described were appalling: He had been raped by other patients and staffers encouraged patients to fight with one another and then had subdued them by choking; at least seven patients died from the choking sessions.
The abuse was eventually exposed by The Tampa Tribune; then-Governor Farris Bryant ordered an investigation that led to reforms in the early ’60s.
Calhoun was released in ’62 and moved to Los Angeles. He so wanted to tell the world about the horror that he did maintenance work for a movie theater, hoping he would meet members of the film industry who could help him with a movie and book. It worked: He met screenwriter James Hicks, who agreed to write a script. It was turned down by several major studios, but was finally accepted by Hemdale Film Corporation, a small British-owned, Los Angeles-based company that also produced Platoon, Hoosiers, The Last Emperor and Salvador.
Rounding out the supporting cast in this inspirational film are Dennis Hopper as a fellow patient and kindred spirit, Frances McDormand, Ned Beatty and Pamela Reed.
Convicts (1991, Blu-ray & DVD)
Set in 1902 Texas and based on Horton Foote’s Orphan Home cycle of three plays, Convicts is the story of Horace Robedaux (played by Lukas Haas), a young man working the land for plantation owner Soll Gautier (Robert Duvall) so that he can raise enough money to pay for a tombstone for his father’s grave. It becomes increasingly clear that Soll’s current mental state may prevent Horace from ever collecting his six months of wages. Mining history and with a keen ear for dialogue, Foote’s screenplay and Peter Masterson’s direction transports viewers to a bygone era. James Earl Jones, Carlin Glynn and Starletta DuPois are the ensemble cast who vividly bring to life characters of a time and place.
FYI: Horace is a character who was inspired by Foote’s father . . . and director Peter Masterson is married to co-star Glynn, who we simply adore.