'I'm Mad, I'm Foolish, I'm Nasty'

A Self-portrait of James Ensor
There are two fascinating things about James Ensor: that he was a great painter, perhaps a genius, with a singular way of looking at his fellow human beings, and that his enormous talent apparently burnt itself out without trace before he was forty, although he lived to be eighty-nine. He was born in 1860 in Ostend, of an English father and a Flemish mother, and he lived in Ostend all his life, apart from three years training at the Brussels Academy, 'that blinkered establishment.' He never married, and he stayed with his mother until the age of fifty-five: she gave him money for paint, but she never appreciated what he did with it. The demon-ridden, grotesque world of his paintings is peopled with carnival figures, skeletons and masked men - but the masks are true faces, showing the depravity which is normally hidden in everyday life. Critics labeled him 'mad, foolish and nasty.' When his first major exhibition, in Paris in 1898, was a failure, it seemed to break something in him. He went on painting and drawing all his life, but produced nothing to equal what had gone before. In his old age, years after his creative powers were at their peak, Ensor achieved great acclaim, and he is seen as an initiator of Expressionism. The commentary of this film is largely taken from his own writings, and the music is based on his 'pantomime-ballet,' The Gamut of Love, for he was also an amateur musician.

Reviews

'...impressive video ... approaches Ensor's work as he might have approached the subject himself ... leads us directly into the personality of the artist, discovering the imagery ... intercutting a feast of rich details from paintings and sketches with photos of the artist at the same locations occupied by his subjects ... a remarkable and poetic portrait of the artist who prefigured Expressionism. The producer's vision and Ensor's vision blend into one unified whole. Its lean, economical editing lets every shot add meaning to the next. This is one of the finest videos on an artist you're likely to see. It is highly recommended.' Video Rating Guide for Libraries, USA

Awards

Best Documentary, Belgium
Selected European Cinema, Berlin
Directors' Grand Prix, UNESCO Paris

Credits

Director/Script: Luc de Heush
Texts: James Ensor, extracts from letters, speeches and orations
Ensor's voice: John Boyle
Narrator: Richard Wells
Original music: Denis Pousseur

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Catalog number #509

55 minutes Color

Age Range: 14 to Adult


48hr Streaming Access


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