Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Film: Jarman’s Caravaggio

When I opened up the newspaper today I saw an article about how for the first time there was going to be an exhibition showing almost all of the works of the Italian baroque painter Caravaggio. There aren’t that many, apparently, about 30 or so, and they almost never get lend out.

Caravaggio was one of the true geniuses of painting, his influence reaching as far as Rubens and Rembrandt. His work was revolutionary because of  his use of realism and clair-obscur ( a dramatic contrast between light and dark). Also he was somewhat of a badass who had numerous run-ins with the law and even had to flee the city because he killed a man in a swordfight.

For me, however, the name Caravaggio always transports me back to art school. We had a teacher there who made sure that the assignments he gave us not only thought us the basics of design but also opened up our eyes and minds for all kinds of new things. For example he encouraged us to explore different music than the one we were listening to at the time, and he would play jazz in class or give us the names of obscure industrial bands to check out. He would point us in the direction of interesting artists and exhibitions and showed us the work of typographers and designers. One day our new assignment was to make a poster for this weird film he had brought us: (you’ve guessed it) “Caravaggio” by Derek Jarman.

This movie will always be special to me because it was the first time I started looking at a film in a different way, with an eye for the visual beauty, the use of light and photography, but also with an ear for the language and the texture of sound. For the first time I realized that stories could be told in a different way than the usual straight-on storytelling I was being exposed to by Hollywood cinema. “Caravaggio” isn’t by far all that experimental actually, but it showed me the way, first to other films of Jarman (“The Garden”, “The Angelic Conversation”,…), then other art-films of that time (the wonderful “Prospero’s Books” by Peter Greenaway comes to mind, but also the animation films of the Quay brothers) and from there on to every weird and wonderful film I could get my hands on.

If any of you have never seen “Caravaggio” before, here’s a little fragment to wet your appetite. I hope you get inspired to explore, just like I did back then. (It seems you can watch the whole thing on YouTube now, so there you go…)

And in case he would ever read this: to the teacher I was talking about, one of the few really great ones, thank you very much for opening up all kinds of windows for me to look through. Those are the things that really make a difference. Cheers…




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