the best established fact of Leonardo da Vinci’s mysterious life is his brilliance. It is hardly surprising he has inspired quite
a few speculative novels, films, and television shows from the likes of Dan
Brown, Ron Howard, Roberto Benigni, and David Goyer. His art is instantly recognizable, but there
are plenty of holes in the historical record, where stuff can be safely made
up. Of course, that just won’t do for
DOC NYC or the History Channel.
Scrupulously adapted from da Vinci’s notebooks, Julian Jones gives
viewers an impressionistic, 3D portrait of the great Renaissance artist in Inside the Mind of Leonardo, which screened
on the final night of this year’s DOC NYC.
by his single servant girl mother, Leonardo had little formal education, but
maybe that was just as well, sparing him the burden of a lot of false
preconceptions. Verrocchio certainly
recognized his young apprentice’s talents.
However, he was not nearly as prolific a painter as one might assume (or
hope). His journals are another
matter. The extensive da Vinci notebooks
offered Jones and his co-screenwriter Nick Dear a treasure trove of
material. With Oxford Professor Martin
Kemp vetting for accuracy, they give viewers a good nutshell overview of the
original Renaissance man’s life and abiding ambitions.
familiar imagery, like Vitruvian Man,
Jones and the animation team render da Vinci’s muscular sketches of birds in
flight and humans in motion in evocative 3D, while Peter Capaldi performs
extracts from the various codexes in the manner of a one-man stage play. Periodically, Jones also indulges in slow
panning shots of modern day Florence and Milan, presumably to anchor the film
in its specific locales. Unfortunately,
these often feel like travelogue interludes that get a little snoozy at times.
the plus side of the ledger, Capaldi is perfectly cast as da Vinci. He has always been a reliably intelligent
presence, but here he vividly projects both the polymath’s arrogance and his melancholy
world-weariness. When watching him in Inside, it is easy to see why he was
selected to be the next Doctor Who. Once
he has finished his run as the timelord, he should be able to take a da Vinci
show on the road, much like Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain.
Eschewing jerkins, Capaldi’s modern dress
actually heightens the film’s intimacy.
(He rather looks like he might be in his Doctor Who wardrobe, complete
with a stylish scarf, but not the full Tom Baker, mind you). Inside works
quite well when it really does go inside—either into da Vinci’s chambers or
into the pages of his notebooks. When it
goes outside, soaking up Tuscan landscapes and bustling Florentine street scenes,
it waters down its atmosphere and character.
Still, it is an interesting docu-hybrid and an unconventional (but
sometimes effective) use of 3D.
Recommended for art and history buffs, Inside the Mind of Leonardo is destined to have a limited
theatrical release and an eventual airdate on the History Channel, following
its premiere at DOC NYC 2013.
Labels: 3D films, DOC NYC '13, Documentary, Leonardo Da Vinci, Peter Capaldi