Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When art goes to the movies: Devil’s Advocate

When Warner Brothers decided to use Frederick E Hart’s sculpture Ex Nihilo for the Pacino/Reeves movie Devil’s Advocate, they should have dialed 666 for advice. Hart’s bass relief can be found above the central portal of the Washington National Cathedral's west entrance. The movie makers used it - well a version, albeit a close one - as decor in the apartment of a Manhattan lawyer (Al Pacino). Unfortunately Pacino also plays the Devil and toward the end of the drama the sculpture comes to life with the figures doing things you wouldn’t do in church. Hart, who also sculpted the controversial Washington Vietnam memorial Three Soldiers, was ''deeply disturbed that 13 years of work to create a sculpture of the profound mystery and beauty of God's creation would be so debased and perversely distorted.'' So the Cathedral took Warner to court.

In the end Warner was permitted to release around 500,000 copies of the video for rental, but had to remove or re-edit about 20 minutes of scenes featuring the sculpture before releasing any further copies. If you look at a recent DVD you will see that the figures in the sculpture have been digitally removed when the work appears in the background, and only appear in the final scene.