Monday, December 31, 2012

Strangers on a Train: Rouault-Inspired Painting

Once more, I’m going to return to the work of the brilliant Alfred Hitchcock who often used artwork, especially paintings to convey implicit, but important messages about his characters. This will not be the last Hitchcock-themed post, I assure you. Paintings are a major motif in many Hitchcock films, which provides me with ample material to cover.

One of my favorite, but certainly darker, Hitchcock films is the brilliant 1951 thriller, Strangers on a Train. Starring Farley Granger as the hero and Robert Walker as Bruno, the deranged villain, Strangers on a Train is one of the more psychologically complex films Hitchcock crafted. Prevalent, as usual, in this film is the domineering mother character. Bruno’s mother, played by Marion Lorne, dotes over her boy, while his father considers him repulsive. What we have here is a Oedipus Complex if I ever saw one-complete with the desire to kill the father. It’s a psychological masterpiece that only Hitch could have done.

By the way, if you didn't know- Strangers on a Train is about two strangers who, guess what, meet on a train. The one proposes that since both have people they’d like to get rid of- they swap murders. Bruno claims that it would be the perfect crime and no one would ever no. Guess what? A murder happens but the rest goes terribly wrong- for both ends in this so-called pact. It’s incredibly well done and I think the most suspenseful Hitchcock film ever.

Rouault Bruno

In one key scene that both illustrates the relationship between Bruno and his mother, while showing his hatred for his father, Mrs. Antony shows Bruno a painting she did in her spare time. As soon as he sees it- he bursts out laughing- interpreting it as a grotesque portrait of his despised father. Mrs. Antony-clueless as always- sees no harm in this- and simply claims she was trying to paint St. Francis.

Rouault Bruno
It’s a scene that’s less than a minute long- but as I said- it establishes the Oedipal relationship with Bruno and his parents and reveals Bruno’s colossal hatred of his father. But of course, I’m interested in the painting. Fortunately, there’s a little information out there, all which is telling.

Strangers on a TrainFirst of all, the artist of the painting in the film is not known. Quite frankly, in this case, it’s unimportant. I discovered that what the painting is based upon is far more important. This painting is an imitation of a real artist- a French Expressionist by the name of Georges Rouault. Rouault, in his younger days, had flirted with Fauvism but had later turned to Expressionism, a darker, more moody genre, one that also happened to be dominated by Germans. Rouault is famous in the art world in a minor fashion, but Hitchcock was a huge admirer. In fact, according to one source, Hitchcock even balanced his scenes in The Wrong Man in a Rouault fashion. Rouault’s works are all fairly primitive (intentionally, I assume) and some of his earlier works are even grotesque in the Strangers fashion. However, I find it completely unlikely that Rouault did the painting in Strangers. He was alive in 1951, but by that time his work, while not more graceful, was less grotesque. Because of this, and the fact that Hitchcock could not have afforded to pay a moderately famous artist, I am claiming that the work is a simple copy of Rouault.

Interestingly enough, later in his life, Rouault, a Catholic (like Hitchcock, incidentally), devoted much of his work to religious subjects. So by calling a Rouault inspired work a portrait of St. Francis is a subtle allusion to the actual artist. The uneducated audience however, finds it ridiculous, as the Master of Suspense, doubtlessly wanted. However, I can sense Hitchcock’s fiendish delight in knowing that it was more rational than not to consider the work- a painting of St. Francis.

As I said earlier, this painting shows a mix of repressed emotion and obsession. Bruno obsessively hates his father, to the point of murder, and through his misinterpretation of his mother’s work, he shows this. Furthermore, Bruno loves to hate his father. It brings him delight to see his seemingly dignified father portrayed in such a brutally ugly way. Bruno’s feelings are as messy and even grotesque as the painting he finds such delight in.
Bruno and Mrs. Antony Rouault

To a psychological analyst, or even to me, I find that in this painting, in this scene, Hitchcock definitely proves the Oedipus complex. To any audience, but especially to the contemporary postwar audience, Bruno’s supposed homosexuality and bizarre relationships with his parents would be considered ample villainy enough to commit the crimes Bruno committed later in the film. As telling as this is about Bruno’s repressed (or maybe, not so repressed feelings), I find it just as telling about the contemporary audience’s feelings and motivations. A filmmaker needs to be able to prove that his villain is realistic enough to be terrifying. Hitchcock painting Bruno pseudo-Oedipal complexities shows what proof a filmmaker needed in the 1950s to prove his villain was terrible enough to commit such terrible crimes.

Also to note, this copying of a real-life artist appears in other Hitchcock films. For instance, in North by Northwest, that wonderful house on the side of Mount Rushmore is an imitation Frank Lloyd Wright. It seems that Hitchcock, an admirer of the arts, knew that his movie budgets couldn’t afford the works of real artists. So he shamelessly copied them to get the mood or feel or look he desired in a scene. You’ve actually got to hand it to him- he did an excellent job. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

All About Eve: Sarah Siddons Award

Just to shake things up a little- for my first post-holiday work, I’m going to examine my first sculpture. It’s one that’s undoubtedly a masterful work of art, but one that is quite easily overlooked. It’s the Sarah Siddons Award, introduced in the great Bette Davis drama, All About Eve.
Sarah Siddons Society Eve Harrington

All About Eve was released in 1950 and served as a career saver for the middle-aged Bette Davis, who made a comeback as the character Margo Channing after all her “siren” roles died off. It costars, notably, Anne Baxter as the titular Eve and the wonderful Celeste Holm as the best friend of Margo (during the actual production, though Bette was icy at best). Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote and directed this drama which deals with an aging theater diva’s conflict with a rising wannabe star (Eve). It’s a marvelous story, with killer characters and many masterfully created scenes.

Sarah Siddons Eve Harrington
The movie begins at a New York Theater Society’s awards dinner. The narrator, a character in the plot, introduces the characters at their table at the Sarah Siddons Society. Eventually, the award for “Distinguished Achievement in Theatre” is given to Miss Eve Harrington, during which the camera freeze frames on Eve. Fortunately, it also freeze frames on our little award, which is a lovely little sculpture as well. Obviously, this award is a major part of the plot, so the sculpture deserves a little discussion.

Margo Channing Bette Davis Award
I could not find who created the sculpture; I couldn’t even find any real information about the sculpture itself. From the picture it looks like it could be bronze, but it’s also possible that it was cheaply done in plastic. Personally, I’m not sure. I would lean towards the plastic, but since the award does appear in multiple key scenes, I’d think that they would put some decent money into it-but hey, it’s Hollywood-who knows? The movie itself gives away what the sculpture is based on.

All About Eve AwardThe award is modeled after a well-known painting of Sarah Siddons done by Sir Joshua Reynolds. This painting, I believes, appears in miniature in Margo’s apartment. Titled Mrs. Siddons as the Muse of Tragedy and painted in 1784, it depicts one of the premier tragic actresses of the 18th century as a classical muse. Siddons created one of the most memorable portrayals of Lady Macbeth, which went arguably unrivaled until Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry took the role in the late 19th century.

But I digress…

This classical look was actually a very popular portraiture style of the time in England as many aristocratic figures, fascinated by antiquity, fancied themselves as idealized and graceful as the ancient Greeks and Romans. I’ve seen a few Reynolds portraits in this same style.

The piece itself can, thematically, be approached from several angles, all of which deal with the repressed. The award, on the surface, recalls theatrical brilliance. However, in view of the plot, it means much more. This “greatest honor” means nothing to colleagues of Eve, knowing the underhanded treachery in which she achieved it. To them, the award represents their repressed resentment and dislike of her.
Sarah Siddons Eve Harrington

To Eve, the award serves a climax of her glory. It was the object of her plotting and planning. Her reception is her tour de force performance, the moment of her greatest triumph. It establishes her in the set of great actresses. To the girl that appears at the end, cradling the award in the mirrored panels, it represents her repressed desires to be a star as well.

In fact, the Sarah Siddons Award is largely seen, in the eyes of the plot, as an award for those who do not deserve it. In the beginning of the plot, Margo, self-centered and vain, while seeking the award, certainly, at least personally, does not deserve it. Eve, who does win it, also does not deserve it. And Eve’s own fan, who also desires it, will not deserve after her plotting, which will assuredly occur, happens. In short, it is the object of desire for those who do not deserve it. Not only is it a desire to be recognized as a great actress in the vein of Siddons, it also represents their desire to be recognized, even perhaps, loved by their peers.

Of note, there is an actual Sarah Siddons Society, which was founded after the movie. It honors great performers in the Chicago theater circuit. They also award statuettes of Siddons, but they too have a scarcity of information about the award itself.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I would like to wish all my readers a very beautiful and merry Christmas season!

Enjoy this tableau from White Christmas to brighten up your Yuletide season. May your days be merry and bright and may all Christmases be white!

Isn't it lovely! It looks like the cover of a vintage Christmas card! Who doesn't love Bing? His name is Bing!
I don't even like the movie that much-but it is a treat for the senses- there are so many beautiful scenes and music throughout- so it's not all that bad! 

P.S. I realize that a tableau is a still-life of real people, however, in film I'm referring to moments that you could freeze the screen and the resulting image would be an artful and balanced display-like so.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tableau-Nativity Scene

I neglected to mention a very important art form of sorts that appears in film. I'm speaking of (if you can't guess from the title)-the idea of a tableau- a scene of "living art," if you will.

The historic epic favors the use of tableau because it will create a recognizable scene for an audience to connect to. For instance, in the recent film, Lincoln, I recognized multiple scenes from Civil War-era photography and art. This creates historical validity of the film because of the notable images it presents.

However, in honor of Christmas, I'll present a few Christmas tableaux to brighten up your season. Some, like the one I'm showing today is roughly inspired by art. Others are unique art forms, but surely art. Still others are faithful renditions of existing art.

The first tableau I'm going to present is from the Rankin-Bass Christmas classic, The Little Drummer Boy, which was made in 1968. The plot is irrelevant. But, obviously, in honor of the song, the titular Drummer Boy plays for the infant Jesus and Rankin-Bass presents this beautiful Nativity scene for the audience.
It's a simple Nativity, but has gentle beauty. The Virgin Mary is beautifully shown as a young girl wearing a brilliant blue veil, while Joseph looks rustic-enough to satisfy any stereotype of an Israeli carpenter. The Christ Child is not pictured directly, instead the light radiating from his divinity is shown coming out of the Manger.

While, this may seem ridiculous  I'm going to compare a '60s Christmas special to the Baroque Nativity scenes that I've scene. The reason I say this is because of the dramatic use of light-that lights up the Blessed Mother's face and creates a center of attention to balance the movement of the Drummer Boy. Overall, it's very artfully done. It's no Rubens, but it's definitely inspired by some Rubens-like art, minus the fleshy overtones.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Affair to Remember Paintings

Affair to Remember painting
I love An Affair To Remember just because it's such a sweet movie. Critics will say that it is not as masterfully done was the film it was based, almost scene by scene on, Love Affair-but I say- what the heck- it's incredibily enjoyable. I love the colors, the sets, the stars and the music. And I also love An Affair to Remember for its incrediblely beautiful artwork that is only shown in fleeting scenes.

By the way- if you've never seen the movie, it's a classically unrealistic romance. A playboy, Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant) and a singer, Terry McKay(Deborah Kerr) meet on a cruise ship. Although they're both engaged to other people, they fall for each other. They meet Nickie's sweet grandmother, they play some music, and viola- they're in love. Before they go their seperate ways- they promise to meet in six months time at the top of the Empire State Building- "the nearest thing to heaven"- with all their previous ties broken and prepared to embark on a new adventure with each other. Terry goes back to singing, Nickie begins painting again and slowly the pieces begin falling in place for a beautiful relationship. The biggest lesson you can learn from this movie is to look both ways before you cross the street- but no big deal.

So- in fact- we have a film with an artist, or at least an aspiring artist, as one of the main characters. Despite this, facts are few on the art that appears in the movie. I'm still looking, but, to date, I could not find a single reference to who created the works seen in the movie. No offense to Cary Grant, but none of them are too intricate or amazing, so it's very likely some starving artist painted them in Hollywood and just never received credit. If you know anything, let me know.

Still, I can go through the artwork that appears in the film for analyzing. There are a few distinct pieces seen. On a whole though, the artwork seen in the film, with a few exceptions, represents love, especially the love of one who is not present.

This is apparent in the first work. Here's the background. The ship stops for a quick break and Nickie and Terry go ashore to see Nickie's grandmother, Janou. Bearing gifts in hand, they enter her beautiful villa, her sanctuary, and she gives beautiful advice to Terry. While talking, Janou points out a landscape supposedly done by Nickie.
Affair to Remember painting

Terry is amazed at Nickie's artistic talents. To me, it looks like a fairly basic, primitive landscape. It kind of reminds me of some of Cezanne's work. But, I'll digress.

Affair to Remember painting

Later, Nickie comes in, and gives his gift to Janou. It's a beautifully rendered portrait of his deceased grandfather, painted from memory. It's a beautiful painting and a beautiful gesture, and it's appreciated. Plot-wise, it establishes Nickie as a more sensitive and family-oriented character than the audience would assume. Here's the portrait.
Grandfather Portrait
Despite the obviously French subject (look at the mustache), the work lacks the delicacy of 19th century French portriture as well as the avante-garde nature of much of contemporary French work.  This painting reminds me of society portraits of the 20s and 30s. Which means, a painter who may have done actor portraits in Hollywood may have painted this. But, who knows. More importantly, early on it establishes a theme of artwork in the movie. This piece represents a loved one, his grandfather, who is no longer with the artist (Nickie). It is a piece created out of love, in an attempt to forever capture one's love.

 Later in the film, we get a glimpse of Nickie's studio. His agent is examining a piece- one that is not shown- but a still life of fruit is the background. Perhaps it's because it is a still life of fruit, but it strongly reminds me of the simple still lifes done by Cezanne (again.) You can judge for yourself.


Finally, the last piece seen is the most important piece. It's a painting of Terry and Janou (who is now decased) in a mirror image, wearing the same shawl. Essentially, it's a painting of the two women Nickie loves most. It occurs during the climax of the movie, when Nickie confronts Terry for not following through with the promise. Gradually, throughout their discourse, after he remembers a certain painting that a poor woman was given b y his dealer, he enters the bedroom...
Janou Terry Painting
He sees the painting in a mirror, and the camera focuses on his reaction to realizing that Terry does not not love him anymore. It's a beautiful, poignant scene, as his composure changes, he realizes the truth, rushes to Terry and happily ever after.

Yet, for an important work, there's very little focus on it. The camera focuses on it for mere seconds before it turns to Nickie. In fact, it's never even shown straight on-it's a mirror image of the painting. From what you can tell, it appears crude, but full of emotion and therefore intentionally a little rough to convey the sadness the painter felt.

I assumed that there would be a ton of information on this piece as it provides the turning point of one of the classic romance films in movie history- but alas! I can find nothing! I'm assuming a Fox studio artist created this, perhaps a storyboard artist. This could explain the roughness in some of the works. Nothing is super refined, which leads me to believe that the artist was not super refined.

Still, I love the movie, and despite my snobby criticism, I do love this movie and I do love the art in the movie. Also- this is one of those great movie that's not a Christmas movie but takes place during Christmas. The title and credit scenes are shown over a beautiful New York snow scene. So, I'll end my post with a Merry Christmas to you (my non-existant?) readers and that beautiful scene.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Psycho Painting

I just saw a great new movie and I would recommend it to anyone who loves movies. It’s the Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren film, Hitchock, about the making of the Hitchcock classic, Psycho. In honor of the movie, I’ll take a painting from Psycho to analyze.
Susannah and Her Elders

Psycho is one of those movies that non-Hitchcock, non-classics, people either have seen or at least know of. Just mention “the shower scene” and most people even know the iconic screeching music. I hate horror movies- but I love and hate Psycho because it’s creepy but it’s so well done that it’s hard not to admire the mastery of the piece Besides, Psycho’s influence is lasting upon American cinema for reasons too numerous to explain.

The House By the Railroad
Now, like most Hitchcock films, the piece is artfully arranged. It’s a fairly common fact that this famous Hopper painting, The House by the Railroad, was inspiration for the creepily infamous Bates Home. But while, scene by scene, one could argue that each of Hitchcock’s sets are artistically deserving of merit, there is art within the piece that deserves analyzing.

In the movie, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), have this private supper in Norman’s parlor off the motel office. The conversation that ensues plays a very important part. For one, after this little talk in “the parlor,” Marion resolves to return to embezzled money that led her to the Bates Motel. This restores faith in Marion’s goodness and therefore makes her impending murder all the more tragic, as it is much more impressive to the audience when a good person is needlessly killed, opposed to a criminal. Also, the conversation establishes the fact that Norman’s “mother” has issues, and that Norman himself, has a darker side, one not seen in his introductory scene. In the next scene, our artwork is revealed, and our assumptions about Norman are proven.
Norman Bates

So, Norman remains in the parlor as Marion prepares to shower. He lifts his painting, which hides a peephole. He proceeds to watch Marion undress and go into the shower with a childish and sickening delight. While the acts of peeping toms are considered distasteful and disgusting today; in 1960, when the film was released, it would have established Norman as a full-fledged pervert. But what you, and the audience, fails to recognize, is that Hitchcock established this trait before the scene takes place.

Norman Bates
If you look at the picture, it’s a painting of a young woman being raped by a couple of old men. The painting itself is disputed by historians, but TCM, establishes it as a portrayal of the biblical story of “Susannah and the Elders,” a sordid little tale about two old peeping toms who spy on a young woman having a bath, try to blackmail her, and then rape her. In the Bible, it is essentially a story of male sexual aggression and the evil that exists in all-even the elders, or the seemingly sensitive Norman Bates.

Hitchcock himself identified the piece as important to the plot. During the famous trailer, where he leads cameras around the set building suspense, he enters the parlor. He turns to the painting and say, in that famous Hitchcock voice, “By the way- this painting has great significance because…” and in typical Hitchcock fashion, leaves the viewer in suspense. But Hitch knew what he was talking about. The piece confirms what the scene establishes. One of the themes of film is dangers and evils of perversions, and this piece, and the fact that it hangs in Norman’s favorite room, is telling. This piece is a classic instance of painting expressing repressed emotions and characteristics of a main character. In Psycho, these characteristics are certainly, not to the character’s favor.
Hitchcock Trailer

For the painting, I could not find the original. It is possible Hitchcock found either a non-famous piece or commissioned one, but I could find evidence to prove nothing. The piece, itself, is done multiple times throughout history and was a special favorite to many Baroque artists. I could put any piece here, and you’d see the basic similarities, but frankly, it’s unnecessary. The fact that you understand the background and story of the piece means you understand how it shows characteristics and how important it is to the plot. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Midnight in Paris Picasso Painting

So, one of my favorite movies to be released recently is Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris which was released in 2011. It took the artsy-film crowd by storm when it was released because of the large number of famous historical figures from the 1920s, which allowed for a large, and consequently famous, supporting/cameo cast. I personally really enjoyed its story which concerns a 21th century American wannabe novelist, played by Owen Wilson, in one of his best movies) who loves Paris (where the story’s set) and the ‘20s, despite the scoffs of his beautiful fiancĂ©e, played by Rachel McAdams. Luckily for him, by some miracle, he is transported there one magical night and experiences all his favorite historical characters and falls in love with a French girl from the 20s, played by the gorgeous Marion Cottilard. It’s an enjoyable little film.

Not to flatter Woody Allen, but the film is a piece of itself. It has one of the best scores I’ve heard in a while, and is beautifully shot and really does a great job capturing the essence (or supposed essence, I guess) of Paris (I’ve never been there). Now, since Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein and Picasso all appear in the film-it is full of art- but I’m going to focus on piece in particular, because it plays a minor role in the plot.

Somewhere in the film, Ernest Hemmingway takes Gil (Wilson) to see Gertrude Stein so she can critique his manuscript. When they arrive at her infamous salon, Stein (played by Kathy Bates) is sitting there (actually in front of a famous portrait of her) debating one of Picasso’s pieces. He’s angrily Spanish, debating right back at her.

This is some of the interchange from the film.

Gertrude Stein: "You can help decide which of us is right and which of us is wrong. I was just telling Pablo this portrait does not capture Adriana. It has universality but no objectivity.
Look how he has done her- Dripping with sexual innuendo, carnal to the point of smoldering.
Yes, she’s beautiful, but- it’s a subtle beauty, an implied sensuality."

Then, of course, the character of Adriana (Cottilard) is introduced and Gil, of course, falls in love with Picasso’s beautiful mistress.

I find the interchange all slightly humorous. I actually like a lot of Picasso’s work, especially his synthetic cubism and his much-earlier Blue Period. I feel this painting conveys nothing emotional whatsoever in it-sensual or otherwise. However, I don’t quite care for this piece at all, but I’ll elaborate later.  

The painting also appears in the film when Gil is in modern-day times. There’s a debate in the museum, where the painting now hangs and Gil shows off his knowledge of the piece to the group, which surprises everyone. He “correctly” identifies it as a rough draft, if you will, of a portrait of one of Picasso’s lesser mistresses. While the character of Adriana continues to appear, the painting disappears from the screen, leaving you with the impression that now you artsy movie watcher know all about some obscure Picasso. Well- you don’t, so calm down.

This painting is actually titled The Bather or La Baigneuse. It is an authentic Picasso, painted in 1928 and currently located at the Musee Picasso, in Paris. At that time, Picasso was returning to his more abstract roots after a more realistic stint known as “classicism” based on Greco-Roman sculpture in the early 20s. In ’27-28, Picasso actually did a few “Bather” paintings, which all show the same basic form of cubism and subject. I’ve included two of this series to show you how non-unique The Bather actually is (enjoy Bathing Women from 1927, and Bathers with a Beach Ball from 1928). 

Midnight in paris

So this painting is a hybrid when it comes to categorizing. For one, it is an actual painting, not an original work created for the film. However, unlike some real paintings that appear in movies, its meaning and subject is modified and actually, quite frankly, false. It does, however, play a part in the film. For one, it adds a rough date to the movie itself (the actual date of the past that Gil travels into is never elaborated on). However, since the painting’s meaning is different, the date of the actual piece means very little. It plays a minor role, in the plot, so it fits in little ways to a couple of categories.

For one, the painting represents love. On the onset, it is Picasso’s expression of love to Adriana and is later a reminder of Gil’s love of her, as well.

In a deeper way, it represents frivolity. A swimming excursion is certainly a frivolous one, and if one emotion is captured in this piece it is the joy and unchecked spirits of a trip to the beach. In a similar way, despite his intentions, Gil’s trips to the past are frivolous excursions that only serve to distract him from the present- a vacation from the present-day, if you will. Such trips don’t last long, for a reason. This piece may, or may not, serve as a piece of foreshadowing in the film, setting the tone of all Gil’s sojourns to the past-ones that will not last long and may prove to be just joyful, but perhaps not fruitful, experiences aside from the everyday.  

It also is a reminder of the past. When Gil views the painting in the museum, he is undoubtedly reminded that his excursions to the twenties occur far in the past. In this same way, it is an indicator of a presence that is no longer there. Adriana is undoubtedly also long dead in the 21st century, yet “her” painting conveys her presence.

And finally, the painting adds authenticity to the setting. Not only does the painting appear to be an actual Picasso work, it actually is. So when you have the characters, the painting, the implied time-voila! You have an authentic setting.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The "Blue Velvet' Scarlett Portrait

You may have noticed a trend in movie-art and we just started. Many of the plot-related movie paintings and sculpture are relating to people, usually portraiture.  There is an obvious reason for this. Not only is a person more significant than a random still-life, art can show the presence of people when they are either not characters in the immediate drama (but still relative to it, in the case of Vertigo) or if they are not in the current scene (as for most of Laura). The portraiture takes the place of the character, often with an eerie nature- because though it’s as if they are there- they are not.
So, I’ll go into the classics again to show you an example of that. 

I’m going to the classic movie of all classic movies, Gone with the Wind, the marvelous epic of antebellum, wartime and the post-Civil War American South. The story is basically the trials and tribulations of one of the greatest divas in the history of cinema- Scarlett O’Hara (played to perfection by Vivien Leigh). The movie, while incredibly long, is worth it because not only is it incredibly well done and not only does it have one of the paramount casts in film, the story (the backbone of any film, if you will) is just marvelous. This is of course, thanks to the author, Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the bestselling novel (which is long, but worth it, again). I’m not going to go into my analysis of Gone With the Wind, because quite frankly, it would be very long (but worth your while, have no doubt).

So, I’m going to focus once more on the art… this time to this great portrait of Scarlett O’Hara. If you don’t know anything about the movie, Scarlett thinks she loves this wimp of a Southern aristocrat, Ashley, who is married to the saintly Miss Melanie, but really she’s loved by (and implicitly) loves Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler. Anyhow, eventually, they do get married and they have this really stormy relationship because while Rhett is outwardly a scoundrel, he’s really a very fine individual with remarkable honor, while Scarlett is outwardly a belle and really kind of a bit… OF a self-centered jerk.
During one argument, Rhett storms into his bedroom, pours himself a glass of sherry, then throws the entire glass at this steely eyed portrait of Scarlett. This painting is in their opulent town home that they share, and like the rest of the home, is overly large. The portrait completely bears the essence of Scarlett. In the portrait, she appears cold an uncaring to the problems of others. Don’t get me wrong, I love Scarlett, but, I mean partially everyone who loves Scarlett loves to hate her.
Granted, this painting is really not done in the style of 1870s American portraiture. If you check out the work of Thomas Eakins who was an American painter in more the 1880s, the semi-photorealism in the painting isn’t really similar to the work that appears in this painting.The painting itself is kind of beloved to Gone with the Wind fans. Scarlett never appears wearing this mysterious “Blue Velvet” dress that she wears in a pose that’s been imitated in other Hollywood portraits recently. The painting, I believe was based on a photograph of Vivian. I am not exactly sure who the painter is, but when I tell you I spent hours looking into this, I am not exaggerating. I found in one book that the painting was done by one Helen Carleton. When I found this information, I was all excited because I thought this was going to lead me to a treasure trove of information, but I cannot find one thing about Miss Carleton. If anyone knows anything about her, I’d love to know- but I, for one, couldn’t tell you.

Currently, the painting resides in the Margaret Mitchell Museum in Atlanta which contains tons of great Gone with the Wind memorabilia, like this portrait. The museum, while it appears to be excellent, doesn't exactly contain a treasure trove of information online, but whatever. If you ever venture down South, it's may be a place you would want to visit.

Anyhow, it's a great and famous portrait of a great character in film. Like I said, if you know anything else about the painting or the artist, let me know via comment. I, quite frankly, do give a damn.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Picture of Dorian Grey- It's the movie and an appropriate blog title!

So, one of the creepiest portraits in movies… ever is about well… one of the creepiest painting stories ever. Yes, it’s the Picture of Dorian Gray! There have been multiple films made after this eerily good Oscar Wilde novel, but I’m going to choose what is usually considered the most famous, and is my personal favorite- the 1945 film starring George Sanders and my favorite actress ever, Angela Lansbury.

So, once again, this picture is a major plot point, which means it’s very important in the course of the movie. Actually, the entire movie is based around this painting, which is fairly unique and pretty awesome for my blog.

If you’ve never seen an adaptation or read the novel (which is also excellent), it’s about a misguided young man (in this movie, played by Sanders), who in a crazy way, sells his soul to this painting. He, externally never ages from his “attractive” young self, but his portrait ages instead. And there’s another thing. Eventually Dorian becomes all immoral and criminal, but his face, which the Victorians I assume believe, would show the results of his crime, doesn’t. Instead, his portrait just becomes more gruesome to represent the defilement of his soul. It’s very profound.

So thematically, this portrait is as pure as Dorian- so- it’s not. It’s a mutt of themes. But this is my final judgment. The portrait represented the repressed evil in Dorian’s character which fails to show in his actual personage. However, the portrait, as a symbol of his evil, also acts as almost a ghost, an overbearing presence, haunting Dorian, who appears to the world to be perfect. It shows Dorian who he actually is, despite what his mirror reflects, and its monstrosity haunts him to the final, chilling climax of the story.

So there are actually two portraits used in the movie, but which should be mentioned in their own right. The first is the “original portrait,” the portrait of the young ideal Dorian, which the titular character admires so much that he basically gives it his soul. This painting was done by a Hollywood society painter, by the name of Henrique Medina de Barros. If the name didn’t give it away, he is of Iberian descent (Portuguese) as a matter of fact. The portrait is done in a very realistic style and can be considered the most famous “Before” picture in the movies. But this portrait is relatively minor in comparison to the “After” picture which is famous cinematically and artistically.

As you can tell, it’s a little gruesome (what can I say- Dorian certainly went down the path of evil) and a lot different from the first, even genre wise. It’s a rotted, old body, with chains (does this remind you of a Christmas Carol) surrounded by little, creepy ghosts. It’s an intentionally revolting picture- I, for one, don’t even like looking at it. It is described as portraying "moral leprosy" in the film- very apt, don't you think? But continue staring into ancient Dorian’s ghastly face. But if you compare the two- you'll notice a few striking similarities and differences. Besides, the gore and the chains, this painting appears to be the rotted original. The table and cat statue are the same, the suit is the same. Even the throne-like chair is the background is the same. Despite the style differences, many things are similar, scene-wise.

Interestingly enough, the initial shots of the painting are the only color shots in the film. So, there is a color view of the before shot, and two color views of the after shot. The fact that such effort went in to these shots shows the importance of the painting, which is not up for debate. Without the picture, you can have no Dorian. 

This was done by another artist with a fairly amusing name- Ivan Le Lorraine Albright. He was a magic realist, which is a genre which is fairly unique of its own right. Most of his work basically looks like this portrait, and I would say the Dorian portrait is definitely his most famous work. Albright actually kept the painting after filming, and it now is actually in the Art Institute of Chicago, which is a fairly prestigious gallery.

So, this portrait is one of those rare movie props, if you will, that is considered high art. Not personally one of my favorites, but God knows I don’t belong in the base of the art critics.
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