Sunday, June 16, 2024

Art on the Screen

The other day it got quite hot in Santa Fe and our swamp coolers were not doing a very good job. I was thinking that when my parents came to this country in 1939 and lived in a one-bedroom apartment backing up to a brick wall. They went to Radio City Music Hall to cool off, because there was air-conditioning in the theater. Now we watch a movie every week, but it is on our television set and we rarely go to a movie house.

Another result of the Pandemic is that television interviews are usually done remotely. Those interviewed often choose their kitchens for a background (though in one case, I saw their hotel room, bed and all) but sometimes we get to see art from their private collections.

We were watching “Franklin” the new limited series on Apple TV+ about Ben Franklin in Paris. Michael Douglas inhabits the role so convincingly that forever more we will envision him as Franklin. With great attention paid to the settings, scenes were filmed in several chateaux in France and even various rooms in Versailles! My wife and I enjoyed discussing the actual works of art that we could see in the shots.

I had not given it much thought before, but it made me look into films that are shot in locations where art is displayed, most notably museums but other places as well.

Of course, as subject matter, how many heist movies have there been with thefts from museums. Why? Because most of us have been to a museum and often we know the work of art that is being stolen. Such as in “The Thomas Crown Affair” where a bored billionaire Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) decides to entertain himself by stealing a Monet from the Metropolitan Museum. Here Crown meets up with the detective, Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) who is investigating the case for the insurance company.

Why does art so often act as a backdrop for a film? I must admit here that for this question I went to Google’s Chat GPT. Here are some of the reasons I gleaned from that search. Art can set the atmosphere of a scene. One might use a shot in a gallery of abstract art in a lighthearted comedy or a scene in the Dutch galleries of the Rijksmuseum for a more somber spy film. If the plot takes place in a different country or time period art can better establish the moment.

I did not watch the popular television series “The Sopranos”, so I missed this bedroom scene where “The Visitation” (1528-29) by Jacopo Pontormo hung.

Since the characters in the series are mafioso I presume they stole the Pontormo from a small church ten miles west of Florence, in Carmignano where it belongs, or maybe when the painting was on tour in the U.S.!

I found there are several movies I look forward to streaming to catch a glimpse of the art. In Bernardo Bertolucci’s 2003 film “The Dreamers”, an American exchange student and French twins feeling isolated during the 1968 student riots in Paris take a romp through the Louvre.

In a 1961 movie called “The Duke” a 60-year-old taxi driver decides to abscond with the Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery, London, in order to blackmail the government into providing more care for the elderly. It is based on a true story!

I know that from now on I will pay more attention to identify works of art used in background settings. Maybe you will join me in this armchair art spotting.

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