Wake Up!


  The picture above is Study After Velasquez’ Pope Innocent X by Francis Bacon.  The one just below* is a shot of lead character Hannibal Lecter from the film Silence of the Lambs directed by Jonathan Demme.  I think that the similarity of the two images is striking. 

  Demme’s an art collector (though most well known for his Haitian stuff) and had to have been aware of Bacon’s oeuvre.  The cell in the Memphis courthouse is certainly not an exact transcription of the painting’s motif and could have been done subliminally or even completely by accident.  But, as someone once said “ mediocre artists borrow, great artists steal”.

  The arrangement of the prominent vertical brushstrokes in the Bacon work has the same visual impact and conveys a similar carnal apprehension as do the bars of the cell in the flic.  Both characters pervade beyond any limitation.  Like nightmares.

  Bacon said that he “had nothing against popes” and simply found their garb to be uniquely suitable for the colors with which he was then working.  Sure seems disingenuous to me.  He painted forty some in the series and the power of the images suggest otherwise.  Even though screaming heads appear throughout his body of work, they’re a fungible conceit.  It would be easy to impute certain recent horrific revelations and wonder about the possibility of the cathexis of earlier manifestations through Bacon’s brush.

  At any rate, the two images project – to me at least – horror from nearly opposite perspectives.  Bacon’s pope nearly empties himself in sanctimonious rage while Dr. Lecter speaks with the quiet confidence only available to a psychopath.  The former just barely obscures the abyss with his robes and incantations while the latter revels from its depths.  Bacon’s pope is like an exploding star while in Lecter Demme and Hopkins conjure up a black hole.

*Unfortunately, this is the scene, but not the shot I had in mind when I cobbled these thoughts together.  Those who’ve seen the film will remember the shinning cupola shaped cell assembled in a Tennessee courthouse for the sole purpose of containing Dr. Lecter.  There is drapery, furniture, and a comfortable chair.  Next time notice how it recalls the Bacon picture.

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