Monday, November 24, 2008

Derek Jarman's Caravaggio

The SF MOMA is in the midst of a Derek Jarman Film Series, & yesterday I attended the screening of Caravaggio. I saw this around the time it came out in 1986, & I remember liking it, so I was curious to see what my reaction would be now. I found that I have pretty much the same feelings now about it as I did then. I guess that means my taste in movies hasn't developed in 20 years.

It's definitely an Art movie with a capital "A". The movie is a series of scenes inspired by the life & art of Caravaggio. These scenes play in the artist's mind as he lies dying. It's all very post-modern, with costumes, settings & props spanning centuries. For example, one of these supposedly 17th century characters uses a pocket calculator. Another has a manual typewriter. Caravaggio seems to own a pick-up truck but still has to grind his pigments by hand. The audience has to work to make sense of the disjointed narrative. I still don't understand the voice-overs concerning the character named Pasqualone.

What I like most are the recreations of Caravaggio's paintings within the movie. These are beautiful, visceral & true to the spirit of the originals. Jarman shows the models for the Consort of Musicians taking a break. They eat the fruit props & make innuendos about the artist's relationship with his patron. The Mary Magdelene is about pregnancy. The young female model for Amor Vincit Omnia performs acrobatic moves that are a come-on to the artist.

The movie features a young Tilda Swinton, who truly looks like a creature of another place & time. I definitely remember seeing her for the 1st time here & wondering where on earth they found her. Without Nigel Terry's very human Caravaggio, I think the film would have been intolerably dry.

The film was projected in 35mm, & there were only about 40 of us in a small auditorium that probably seats no more than 300. The screening reminded me of going to art house movies back before the days of video rentals. It was also a terrific bargain at only $5.


The Opera Tattler said...

Goodness, I would have liked to see this. Once I spent a week in Rome trying to see every Caravaggio painting on public view.

Axel Feldheim said...

Jarman pre-supposes an interest in Caravaggio in his viewers. If I had not already had some familiarity with the paintings & his historical reputation, I think I would not have been able to sit through this movie.

I remember seeing a film called "All the Vermeers in New York", but all the Caravaggios in Rome sounds much harder to accomplish!