The first Re­nais­sance man

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

Inside the Mind of Leonardo da Vinci 3D, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 2.5 chiles Flip through the jour­nals of young men and women of am­bi­tion through the ages and you’ll find pas­sion­ate en­tries about mak­ing a mark, leav­ing foot­prints in the sands of time, a de­ter­mi­na­tion not to to pass this way with­out leav­ing a trace, like “woodsmoke on the wind, foam upon the sea.” That last is from the jour­nals of Leonardo da Vinci, a young man grow­ing up il­le­git­i­mate and un­schooled in the Tus­can coun­try­side in the lat­ter half of the 15th cen­tury, and dream­ing of mak­ing it in the big time. “I in­tend,” he wrote, “to leave a mem­ory of my­self in the minds of oth­ers.” And he did. When Leonardo died in 1619 at the age of sixty-seven, he was one of the most fa­mous men in the world. He left some 30,000 pages of note­books and sev­eral paint­ings. Among the lat­ter was a por­trait of the wife of a wealthy Floren­tine mer­chant, which was com­mis­sioned in 1502. Leonardo may have con­tin­ued work­ing on it off and on un­til his death. It’s known as the Mona Lisa.

This is not to say that the great man spent 17 years just work­ing on this one paint­ing. He had a lot of other in­ter­ests. He was an en­gi­neer, a math­e­ma­ti­cian, an in­ven­tor, an anatomist, a ge­ol­o­gist, a botanist, a car­tog­ra­pher, and a writer. Look up the def­i­ni­tion of poly­math and you’re likely to get his pic­ture.

This doc­u­men­tary, di­rected by Ju­lian Jones for the His­tory Chan­nel and fea­tur­ing Scot­tish ac­tor Peter Ca­paldi as Leonardo, is at its best when it con­cen­trates on the note­books, on the rest­less, cease­less cu­rios­ity of the mind of per­haps the most bril­liant and di­verse man ever to draw breath. For rea­sons that pos­si­bly not even Leonardo could ex­plain, the di­rec­tor has cho­sen to make his film in 3-D, even proudly bla­zon­ing that in the ti­tle. There is very lit­tle in the con­tent that ben­e­fits from the third di­men­sion, and there are some things that ac­tu­ally suf­fer. I found in watch­ing it that when the screen was filled with a Leonardo paint­ing, I could some­times see the thing brighter and clearer if I slipped the tinted 3-D glasses down my nose and peered over them.

Per­haps the 3-D has some­thing to do with Ca­paldi’s some­times over­heated per­for­mance. In as­sum­ing the character of Leonardo, he seems to be reach­ing for another di­men­sion, coiled like a snake, hunched in a chair, star­ing off in brood­ing ab­sorp­tion and then sud­denly springing to life to en­gage the cam­era with some histri­on­ics. He grows on you as the film goes on, but he takes some get­ting to know. He does not con­vey Leonardo in any visual sense; he is clean-shaven and wear­ing mod­ern clothes, but the words he speaks are culled from those mag­nif­i­cent jour­nals writ­ten in Leonardo’s hand and spo­ken in what is meant to con­jure up Leonardo’s voice.

Any chance to spend some time inside one of the great­est minds that ever lived is time well spent, even if this doc­u­men­tary doesn’t take as much ad­van­tage of the visit as we might like.

— Jonathan Richards

The pry­ing Scots­man: Peter Ca­paldi copies Leonardo’s notes

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