James A. Stewart
, August 2010
Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa only made it to his thirties, with syphilis and alcoholism cited as the reasons for his early demise. Although he lived a life so short that he could have spent it just introducing himself with his full name, Toulouse-Lautrec devoted that time to capturing Montmartre, the Paris nightlife district, in his art.
Toulouse-Lautrec devotes its short 50 minutes to capturing Toulouse-Lautrec. While the documentary could easily be longer, it uses that time well. It starts with a brief overview of Toulouse-Lautrec’s life, and then turns things over to the experts, who point out the themes of his art and show plenty of examples.
That art, which includes posters done for nightclubs such as the Moulin Rouge, captures performers such as Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril (seen in an illustration on the DVD cover), comedian Caudieux, and La Goulue. There’s also a series of lithographs Toulouse-Lautrec did of brothel life, and art influenced by Japanese styles, such as a poster he did for Divon Japonais, a popular Paris club.
The documentary for British television is simple and straightforward, with a little too much of the talking heads, but there are some nice touches. These include 1889 Paris exhibition footage, film of dancer Loïe Fuller that lets viewers see how her movements were transformed into pencil sketches, and a contemporary demonstration of making lithographs, using the same process Toulouse-Lautrec used.
There’s also a gallery of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work and photos that back up points in the documentary. The gallery illustrations, which move in a slideshow, are numbered so you can see how much is yet to come, a nice touch. A booklet repeats the basics of Toulouse-Lautrec’s life in English and German.
The sound and video are workmanlike, but with no problems. There’s a choice of five languages in the audio, but only one language—French—in the subtitles.
It’s a basic introduction to the artist, probably the equivalent of a freshman-level college lecture. If you need the language options, you would probably prefer that the use of those five languages were more consistent, but that’s a small quibble if you’re just looking for a general portrait of the artist and his work.