Archive for the Painting Category

Don’t tell Chuck (again)

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2021 by dcairns

(Or, Creative Differences Two)

Having enjoyed LUST FOR LIFE no end, I popped THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY on, because that’s the other film based on one of Irving Stone’s popular art biographies. MGM had optioned LFL and sat on it for ten years, concluding “There’s no story there.” Then Minnelli came along and disagreed, and we got the film. TAATE definitely has a clearer kind of story, it’s based around a single goal (the Cistine Chapel ceiling) and it has a central conflict (Michelangelo vs. Pope Julius II). But it differs from most mainstream movies in that the conflict results in creation, not destruction.

This movie has not much of a reputation. Carol Reed was considered past his best in 1965, and so was the historical epic. It’s a white elephant picture par excellence. But I rather liked it. Shot by Leon M. Shamroy, designed by John DeCuir, two men with spectacular lists of credits, it’s a visual feast, and mostly the splendor avoids vulgarity.

Oh, except when Michelangelo gets his inspiration from a matte painting, that’s awful.

Chuck Heston in his memoir talks about the difficulty of playing Michelangelo is that the man didn’t seem to be interested in anything but his work. Really, Chuck? Diane Cilento has been pasted into this picture as a beard to heterosexualise the hero. Since Heston is always stiff in the wrong way around women, not much passion is suggested, but Chuckles is devoid of any trace of ambiguity so the effort could probably have been spared. Still, screenwriter Philip Dunne has included an archly amusing scene where the Pope has soldiers hunting for his painter, who’s gone on the lam. They;re seen searching a brothel, where a half-naked woman in bed is in hysterics: “You’re looking for Michelangelo in THIS HOUSE?”

So we have the amusing situation of Heston playing, for the second time (after BEN-HUR) a character whose sexuality he’s not allowed to know about. He isn’t terrible in the part — it’s not like his demented Moses — but had Rex Harrison a nimbler, more vulnerable and expressive co-star, it could have been pretty great. The agony doesn’t really come across. Michelangelo gets sick, but I missed much sense of backbreaking toil, and of course we never see anything really get painted, just the odd stroke.

The Reed film this most resembles is probably TRAPEZE, if you think about it.

But — Reed found to his surprise that the Vatican was willing to let them film in the real Cistine. But he turned them down. And he was right. DeCuir’s team built an identical replica at Cinecitta, ceilinged it with photographs of the real thing, with the colours brightened to make it look like new. And when Pope Julius leads his reluctant artist into the chapel for the first time, Reed can tilt up to reveal — a BLANK Cistine Chapel ceiling. Having a duplicate to shoot in obviously also freed the filmmakers from all kinds of restraints. But that’s an expensive solution!

Like everyone else who crossed Sey Rexy’s path, Heston found him tricky, though he has the appealing habit of trying to like everyone. He notes that Harrison objected strongly to carrying a papal pointer in a scene which was supposed to end with him breaking the pointer over Michelangelo’s back, an incident which really happened, was the climax of the scene, and was even referred to in dialogue later.

The script is by Philip Dunne, writer of Fox movies for thirty-plus years, some of which (THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) are great. This one’s literate, and doesn’t suffer too much from Epic Dialogue Syndrome.

Rex Harrison’s memoir is hilarious on this one. Harrison’s huge ego demands that he be the star in a film about Michelangelo even though he’s not Michelangelo. “I don’t think Carol was himself. I think Charlton Heston was absolutely himself, and by the end I didn’t know who I was. Pope I knew I was, though the real star was Michelangelo, and Heston very politely and very nicely made me feel that it was extremely kind of me to be supporting him. Carol did little to disabuse him of this notion, so I did everything I could to make myself believe that the picture was about Pope Julius rather than about Michelangelo. In this I was not too successful.”

They wanted Olivier, Rexy.

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY stars Moses; Professor Henry Higgins; Molly Seagrim; 13th Earl of Gurney; Prof. Alberto Levin; Prof. Henry Wassermann; Largo; Pat Garrett; Julia Martineau; Manuel ‘Cuchillo’ Sanchez; and Chief Inspector Tim Oxford.

Unstarry Nights

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on July 3, 2021 by dcairns

Maurice Pialat’s VINCENT is, for some reason, the first Pialat movie I’ve gotten around to. I’ve owned the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of it, and POLICE, for ages. This should prompt me to watch more.

I mean, one could complain — the movie is long and often slow and one ends with no huge sense of understanding the main character — it’s not clear whether he’s ill or mad, his eventual suicide comes out of left field, and although he was clearly not a happy man, there’s no obvious MOTIVATION behind him suddenly shooting himself. So any desire for narrative neatness is defeated.

Pialat in interviews seems obviously complicated, a tricky customer, but he never says anything that would help guide you through his movie. He never discusses the large fictional elements he inserted into VVG’s life. Some of the movie’s deleted scenes seem like they might have helped a little, and that may be why they were deleted.

But it seems churlish to me to complain about the movie’s length (it’s not THAT long but it does SEEM quite long) when so much that’s good in it wouldn’t be there if there was a serious attempt to chip away everything that doesn’t look like a story. In the hostelry where VVG has taken a room, we see people in the back bar, and then a big hay cart comes by the window, VERY CLOSE.

(Had to photograph it off TV because I can’t frame-grab Blu-rays currently.)

“That’s amazing,” I said.

“I was about to say that,” said Fiona. But neither of us could decide exactly WHY it was amazing. The reverberant trundle and rattle of the cart in the night street is part of its gentle ominous loveliness. Certainly it relates to one of the film’s major strengths, its evocation of time and place. Without trying to transform the landscape into a Van Gogh painting, as Minnelli and Kurosawa in their own ways do, it creates an immersive beauty. Paul Verhoeven once said that when you make a period movie, you often can’t afford to pan an inch to the left or an inch to the right for fear of exposing something modern (CGI has almost removed that problem). Pialat’s filmmaking makes it feel like the painter’s world surrounds us completely, and everything we see is real.

He seems to have had a fair bit of money, but there are no Parisian street scenes, so the budget wasn’t unlimited. He’s just really good. The performances are startlingly informal, they feel present-tense but at the same time they’re never anachronistic (the prostitute singing Carmen with da-dum da-dum raunchiness). It puts you inside Van Gogh’s world but can’t or won’t put you inside his head. But it succeeds so exceptionally at the former that it still impresses no end.

It’s not blood, it’s red

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , on June 28, 2021 by dcairns

Watched two Vincente Minnellis this week, without having planned it. BELLS ARE RINGING (top) was a rewatch. The combination of the timeless and simple source material — Cinderella — clever-clever screenwriter/songwriters (Comden & Green) — a crazed aesthete for a director — and the comedy powerhouse that is Judy Holliday — make this one that shouldn’t be missed if you like any of those kind of things.

We’d never seen LUST FOR LIFE. We didn’t initially take to Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh, although he certainly looks the part. He rants a lot, and it feels like the usual Kirk schtick amped up to eleven, rather than anything new or insightful. We admitted the thing was extremely beautiful. We pondered at the fact that Vincent’s letters to Theo (James Donald) were read on the soundtrack by Donald, not Douglas.

Slowly, the film gets better, or its better qualities come to dominate. Donald is the emotional centre, the one who can enlist our sympathies most strongly, so that’s why he gets the VO. And there’s more going on with the imagery than “just” beauty or even an attempt to mimic the look of specific Van Gogh paintings.

When VVG, close to his first crack-up, sits in a gloomy bar, Minnelli shows us his tormented face and then his POV.

We don’t know yet that Minnelli plans to use the image of the lamp as a symbol for when VVG’s mind overheats. It returns later, precipitating the ear-lopping.

What it does here, instead, is suggests the artist’s ability to find beauty in unexpected circumstances. Combined with Kirk’s glowering features, it suggests that he’s oppressed by this ability.

And then the ravishing landscapes, the film’s incessant picturesqueness, start to take on an added value. They go by too fast for us to really study them, seize them with our minds. We feel like the artist, struggling to capture fleeting beauty before it vanishes forever. (No replay function for real life.)

The lantern having assumed a prominent role, Minnelli can simply pan away onto it when VVG is about to make with the straight razor. Exactly as Tarantino does in RESERVOIR DOGS.

Lacking the ability to make Kirk’s ear disappear, Minnelli has to simply avoid shooting him on one side after the bandages come off.

Fiona remembers her art teacher inveighing against Don McLean’s song Vincent and its bogus sentimentality. I remember my art teacher answering a question about why VVG cut his ear off with the line, “He wanted to see what it looked like.” Quite a logical answer. He was an artist, he painted self-portraits… Not true though.

Kirk quietens down in some scenes. James Donald continues to quietly engage. Anthony Quinn brings the entertainment, and doesn’t overact. And he makes things a bit less formal.

The ending had an unexpected emotional impact, especially for Fiona, bringing back her feelings at her own brother’s death. “My poor brother,” says Theo, which is simple and absolutely right. What else can you say?

We’re inclined to look at some more cinematic Vincents. There are lots! The Richard Curtis Dr. Who episode is the worst thing ever, though — way beyond Don McLean.