Tuesday, July 08, 2008

This is not a painting

What about those movies about artists where the real artist or their estate won’t let the work be shown? It happens. To combat the problem there have been a number of approaches taken over the years. The hard-nose award goes to Surviving Picasso. Never have the backs of so many canvases been put on film. Merchant Ivory never got close to convincing Francoise Gilot to give permission to show real works and while there was a meeting with Picasso’s son Claude, it came to nothing, And so many, many canvas backs and a whole lot of made-up Picassos (some better than others) and Picasso-like objects have to stand in for the real thing. It’s all a bit weird when the movie is about an artist who was dedicated to showing off his work. The Francis Bacon movie Love is the devil had the same problem but responded with a different solution. Director John Maybury had the skill to create compositions within the film that read like Bacon paintings.

Artist and director Julian Schnabel took another tack. As we have already seen in this series, James Cameron had his own versions of Picasso run up for Titanic and this is exactly what Schnabel did for Basquiat when the Estate refused permission for any original work to appear. As you can see from the stills, Schnabel himself did a very …. er…. Schnabely version of Jean Michel’s graphic paintings and when Gary Oldman (Julian Schnabel) takes Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat) to his home, there’s the Andy Warhol portrait of Schnabel. It gets even more complicated. When Oldman (Schnabel) is seen supervising the hanging of his show at Mary Boone, Oldman borrowed Schnabel’s own pyjamas in a fit of über realism - which is as good a point as any, to stop.
Images: Top, Picasso-like products lurk in the background of Surviving Picasso. Middle, Love is the devil uses composition to evoke Bacon’s work. Bottom, Schnabel does Basquiat.