Waldemar Januszczak's "Gauguin: The Full Story" is, to date, the most lucid documentary film on Gauguin, although not quite the full story. Januszczak focuses primarily on the life of this great artist and, clearly, prefers the paintings from Tahiti. In Januszczak's own words: "There is always more to Gauguin than meets the eye." Indeed, both in his living and in his painting, Paul Gauguin was consistently restless, prefiguring likeminded artists such as Picasso (who Gauguin was a considerable influence upon). It is doubtful a single statement, in writing or in film, can encompass or have the final say on such a vast subject.
Carroll Moore's aptly titled "Gauguin; The Myth Maker" almost fills in Januszczak's gaps, if not quite. Moore wrote, produced and directed.Actor Willem Dafoe beautifully narrates. Moore has her finger on the pulse when she astutely writes: "A sailor in his teens, a stockbroker in his twenties, by the age of thirty-five he was a married father of four and collector of paintings. And then a plot twist: in 1882, seized by a desire to create rather than collect art, he cast it all away. Rejecting the fetters of bourgeoisie society, he began a search for artistic purity that would last for the rest of his life... restlessly scraping away the veneer of civilization to search for deeper truths and redefining the course of painting. And he died in poverty, only to be discovered by later generations"
Immediately, "The Maker of Myth" establishes a pronounced focus on Gauguin's spirituality through painting. This spirituality is the most startling aspect in discovering Gauguin and it's a focus that Januszczak largely ignores. Januszczak rightly focuses on Gauguin the rebel and self-proclaimed heretic. It is a predominant side to Gauguin. It is this side that delighted in consistently annoying and antagonizing the Catholic Church, but as Dafoe's narration indicates, this is not the only side to the complex painter: "Gauguin rejected the institution, not the faith or its imagery."
In the chapter: "Gauguin's Guises" we see the artist shrewdly writing his own novel, crafting his own mythology: " He could be Gauguin the peasant, rejecting the excesses of capitalism, Gauguin the savage, Gauguin the lost soul on a spiritual quest. He could shift his shape into Gauguin the martyr, suffering Christ-like in the Garden of Olives, and of course the flip side-the evil Lucifer."
Moore is not quite as thorough as Januszczak in research. She buys into the biggest myth about Gauguin: that he abandoned his wife and children to pursue the life of a painter. Actually, after a stock market crash Gauguin lost his job and, consequently, was kicked out of his home, by his wife and her relatives. As Januszczak points out: "perhaps they had good reason, but it is a different story."
"Just as Gauguin mythologized himself, he mythologized places to fit his own ends." Neither Brittany nor Tahiti turned out to be the Eden he imagined. "He eliminated any signs of modernity and depicted his subjects with vivid blocks of color." " Our Missionaries have imported much hypocrisy and are sweeping away part of the poetry" Gauguin wrote. In short; through paint, Gauguin crafted his own paradise.
Still, Januszczak's film does make a convincing argument that Gauguin painted far more from life than "Maker of Myth" would indicate. The stubborn, ceaseless pursuit of heaven on earth, of course, lead Gauguin to a life of unquestionable hedonism but it also reaped a prolific body of work. "Maker of Myth" delves into Gauguin's rich and inherent symbology, particularly in his landmark "Vision After the Sermon" and works like "Green Christ", "Yellow Christ", "Self-Portrait With Yellow Christ" and (most amusingly) "Bonjour, Monsieur Gauguin." "Maker of Myth" is rich in its coverage of the painter's symbolism and rewardingly looks at the source inspirations for many of these works.
"Maker of Myth" is fittingly scored with Debussy's "La Mer" but suffers a bit from Alfred Molina's lackluster voicing of the artist. The "Paradise Lost" chapter explores the darker aspects of Gauguin's late Tahitian works, drawings and watercolors that are unique to this documentary.
Although "Maker of Myth" is only thirty minutes in length, it does pack a considerable amount of content into its meager running time. While "Maker of Myth" fails to usurp Januszczak's film, it is an essential addition to that earlier documentary.