Before there were rock stars, there were artists. They snorted, smoked, and drank a variety of mind-altering substances. They knocked up their girlfriends and threw chairs at them. They blew wads of cash and held hedonistic parties where they'd cross-dress like Geisha girls. They brought hashish cigarettes to friends who were locked up in straitjackets in asylums. Or at least they did in the movie Modigliani, about the short, fast life of painter Amedeo Modigliani.
We asked the movie's star, Andy Garcia, how much of the movie is true and how much is pure glamorization. "I wasn't trying to glamorize him," Garcia said from his Los Angeles office. "I was trying to play the Modigliani that I discovered, to do him justice." Although he is well-known in the art world, Modigliani's work was less successful than that of contemporaries like Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera, with whom he hung out in Paris in the early 1900s. Garcia says that researching the role did not involve heavy drinking and womanizing. "I had seen the play [about Modigliani]," he says. "I was a fan of his work. I knew the arc of his tragic life. You try to gather as much as you can. You read his biography. You devour as much into the brain as possible. But his voice has never been recorded; he has never been captured on film; there are few photos of him. Every book has the same half a dozen photos. So my performance is my impression of this man. I tried to understand the spirit."
In its more prosaic parts, the movie gets bogged down in a depressing love story and lots of self-important, moody scenes where Modigliani walks through dimly lit cobblestone streets (see a review in the Film section). But at its best, the movie captures the love/hate relationship between him and Picasso, rendering a pair of giant egos on the screen. Modigliani embarrasses Picasso by giving him a lap dance in a crowded restaurant and makes fun of his style, asking, "Tell me, Pablo, how do you make love to a cube?" In another scene, Picasso dishes it back, saying, "There is a difference between you and me -- success." In a nutshell, he offers Modigliani the Picasso guide to success: "So paint! Make money... fuck as many women as you can, but drink in moderation."
"I've been fortunate," Garcia says about being offered roles in big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like Ocean's Eleven and The Untouchables as well as arty, independent films like The Man from Elysian Fields and Modigliani (which was filmed in Romania to keep production costs low). With indies, he says, "You give up financial and physical comfort, but... the material is usually much more challenging. I'm willing to go the distance. Budgets don't scare me."