The Palm Theatre brought "Loving Vincent," a one-of-a-kind movie, to San Luis Obispo this past month. Cassandra Garibay | Mustang News

Imagine a movie in which every scene is broken down into still frames, and every still frame is hand-painted using oil paints and an impressionist style. During the course of four years, approximately one hundred artists gathered to create an entirely hand-painted movie in honor of Vincent Van Gogh. The movie “Loving Vincent” was shown across the country in smaller theaters, including San Luis Obispo’s Palm Theatre.

“This is the first time anyone has ever painted a movie and animated it in this way so, to me, it is just kind of cool to be like, ‘I saw it, I was among the first. I was there the week it opened in [San Luis Obispo],’” art and design senior Kelli Chollar said. “In a really insignificant way, I was kind of a part of that art historical moment.”

According to studio art and art history lecturer Ava Werner, it took approximately 60,000 oil paintings to create the 90-minute film.

“It is a testament to people’s love of [Van Gogh’s] work,” Werner said. “He is like a painter’s painter, you know. It is like painters really appreciate his painting because you really see the brush strokes and how he would make choices to not blend areas.”

The film used Van Gogh’s famous landscape paintings as backgrounds and scenery, and the characters of the movie were based on his portrait paintings. The story centered around Van Gogh’s mysterious life as an artist and what may have led to his death.

“The idea that [Van Gogh] only sold one work in his lifetime, and he was so misunderstood and yet now he is such a revered artist, I think people like that story and sort of mythologize that story,” Werner said.

Van Gogh was a part of the impressionist movement, a style of art noted for attempting to capture impressions of natural light in paintings. However, it was not until near the end of his life that Van Gogh received limited recognition. Society did not truly appreciate him until years later, Werner said.

“He was ahead of his time, I guess you would say,” Palm Theatre owner Jim Dee said. “The fact that he was forging this style that was so utterly new at the time — it’s funny, there are movies that are released and they don’t do well and it’s over time that they [realize] that it was ahead of its time or that it was meaningful.”

Why watch it on the big screen?

Dee, who has owned the Palm Theatre for almost 30 years, said he chose to show the film after several locals requested it and he became interested after seeing the trailer.

Although the film seemed to attract an older audience, Dee said he felt anyone with an appreciation of art and film should have an opportunity to watch “Loving Vincent” on the big screen.

“I think it’s a unique experience to see a film with an audience, like you are alone in the dark with an audience, so to speak, and also I think that’s the way movies were intended to be seen,” Dee said. “Even ‘Loving Vincent,’ you can watch it on your computer or on your phone but it is really meant to be seen on the big screen.”

Why Van Gogh still fascinates people

According to Werner, even after all this time, younger generations can appreciate Van Gogh’s vibrant colors and intricate brush strokes on an
emotional level.

“Some [students] struggle with mental illness or various things that they have to overcome and, you know, the fact that he had all these problems and was still able to be so prolific and make all this beautiful work is a real testament to his character, and I think it is something students can relate to,” Werner said.

Whether it be a first exposure to Van Gogh or a new perspective, Dee hoped that people left with better knowledge of who Van Gogh was as an artist and an appreciation for a creative new approach to filmmaking.

“With an understanding that the majority of students on this campus are not as in to art history as I am, if you are going to pick a couple artists to know about, Van Gogh is really one of them,” Chollar said.

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