SUBJECTS — Biography/Lautrec; Visual Arts; World/France;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Alcohol and Drug Abuse; Disabilities; Talent;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility.
AGE: 13+; Not Rated (TWM estimates that it would be given a PG-13 rating today);
Drama; 1952; 119 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
This is not the 2001 Baz Luhrmann version, but an in-depth analysis of the life of the great painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Those who love movies by Baz Luhrmann should take a look at Strictly Ballroom, thought by some to be his best work and a film that can transform lives.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 – 1901), overcame a physical disability to become a great artist, but succumbed to alcoholism. This is a fictionalized account of his life. The movie is based on a novel by Pierre La Mure.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 1952 Academy Awards: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Color), Best Costume Design (Color); 1953 National Board of Review Awards: Five Best Foreign Films of the Year; 1952 Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Ferrer), Best Supporting Actress (Marchand), Best Director (Huston), Best Film Editing.
Featured Actors: Jose Ferrer, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Suzanne Flon, Christopher Lee.
Director: John Huston.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Look at paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec in an art book or online. Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.
TeachWithMovies.org recommends that every child in any family in which there is any history of heavy drinking or alcohol abuse be taken to an open AA meeting beginning at the age of 12 or 13. This should be repeated every year or so. Some meetings are divided into two parts. Try to stay for the second part. That’s when specially selected speakers talk about the difficulties they encountered while intoxicated and their new lives in sobriety. Tell the kids that if they ever have trouble with alcohol, the twelve steps of AA are a way that they can avoid the destructive effects of alcoholism. For more information, see Handout on Alcohol and How it Affects Us.
Toulouse-Lautrec was the scion of one of France’s oldest aristocratic families. As a youth, due to a congenital calcium deficiency, he broke both legs and they stopped growing. He was thus handicapped for life. Toulouse-Lautrec took up painting during his convalescence and became one of the most original and prolific of French painters. He frequented the cabarets and brothels of Paris and was friends with a number of artists and intellectuals, including Vincent van Gogh and Oscar Wilde. The Moulin Rouge was a well-known cabaret in Paris often visited by Lautrec. One of his most celebrated works is a poster created for the Moulin Rouge. Lautrec died of a stroke brought on by alcoholism.
Toulouse-Lautrec is classified by art historians as a “Post Impressionist,” a group which includes Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Cezanne. These artists developed their distinctive styles at the end of the 19th century. In their paintings, the “Post Impressionists” convey, not how the world looks, but how the world makes them feel. Toulouse-Lautrec was strongly influenced by Japanese prints which were popular in Paris at the time. His work is distinguished by foreshortened perspectives, sharp lines, flat expanses of color, asymmetric composition, and oblique angles. Examples of Lautrec’s work can be found at The Lautrec Website. There are many books with copies of Lautrec’s work. Point out to children the use of line and color characteristic of this painter.
The Musée du Louvre is the national art museum of France. Its collection of paintings is considered by many to be the most important in the world. The Louvre also has Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Oriental antiquities. See The Louvre Website.
The Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, is probably the most famous portrait ever painted. It was da Vinci’s favorite painting and he took it with him everywhere he went. The woman’s inexplicable smile has obsessed many.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
Despite being malformed and disabled, Lautrec became one of the most famous artists in the world. What does this tell us about disabilities?
It tells us that even severe handicaps can be overcome.
ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE
See Handout on Alcohol and How it Affects Us
1. Did Lautrec permit alcohol to stop him from his life’s work?
2. Lautrec had the capacity to drink a tremendous amount of cognac before it affected him. How did that capacity contribute to his alcoholism?
3. Do you know any other great artists whose alcohol consumption or drug abuse contributed to an early death?
There are unfortunately many, from Jimi Hendrix to Mozart. See Learning Guide to “Amadeus”.
[See questions set out in the “Alcohol & Drug Use” sections above.)
4. Lautrec was able to overcome a debilitating handicap only to succumb to alcoholism. What does this tell us about people and their strengths and weaknesses?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
1. Did Lautrec behave responsibly to himself and to his art?
- Attendance at an open AA meeting is an excellent extra-credit activity. Some meetings are divided into two parts. Tell the kids to ask permission to stay for the second part. That’s when specially selected speakers talk about the difficulties they encountered while intoxicated and their new lives in sobriety.