Film Review: HENRI ROUSSEAU: JUNGLES IN PARIS
(Right: Henri Rousseau, Self Portrait
, 1895. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)Herni Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, 2006
. Directed, written and produced by Carroll Moore. Narrated by Kevin Kline.
Made to accompany of traveling retrospective of Rousseau's career (especially his scenes of jungle fantasy), Moore's film does an admirable job at presenting the man's life and work in a scant 30 minutes. Kline's familiar voice is lively, even serious when need-be, telling us of the enigmas that make Rousseau one of the more endearing artists of the belle époque
. Born into the lower middle class, Rousseau started as a hobbyist who made commissioned work for friends and acquaintances, or merely painted in between his work as a civil servant. A conservative man with strongly nationalist views, he nonetheless made images of exceptional daring. His view of the wild world outside of France combines the logic of the daydream with the easily-found myths of the popular culture of the time. Despite never having been to the exotic lands he paints (unlike Gaughin), Rousseau taps the sensationalist press, adventure stories, and the world exhibitions that Paris staged in order to make his mark.
The most interesting aspect of Rousseau's artistic life centers on his lauding by avant-garde circles. Picasso owned some of his works. Guillame Apollinaire told tall-tales of his exploits. Later, Andre Breton and the surrealists identified with dehistoricized readings of his paintings. Rousseau, a petit-bourgeois intent on building a career, embraced their love despite his differing views.
The documentary provides plenty of fact and sifts through much of the fiction, though as an autonomous object, does little outside of an already-perfected mode. Far more interesting (based on existing reports) is Ken Russell's Always on Sunday
(1965, BBC), which uses the contemporary painter James Lloyd to dramatize the idiosyncratic life of the artist.