Posts Tagged ‘silent films’

He Who Gets Slapped gifI found myself awake late one night this past week watching a film I’d seen a couple of times before.  It was He Who Gets Slapped, a silent film from 1924  which was the first film made by the then new movie studio MGM.  It stars Lon Chaney in a pretty grim and tragic story ( it is based on a Russian play after all) that is sometimes hard to watch and hard to turn away from at the same time.  On this particular night I couldn’t look away.

The basic premise is that Chaney plays a brilliant scientist who is screwed over by a wealthy man who steals both his ideas and his wife, humiliating him before a crowd of the foremost scientists who laugh at him.  This humiliation spurs him to retreat and become a clown called He whose act is to be masochistically slapped by an entire troop of clowns, his pain sparking the laughter of the crowd night after night.  Of course, there is wonderful revenge and the rich guy gets his just reward but it is by no means a happy ending or a feel-good film.

Lon Chaney ClownBut a great film it is.  The imagery of the clowns in the film is quite remarkable and haunting.  Whenever I see this film or Chaney’s other dark clown classic, Laugh, Clown, Laugh,(it was on right after He but I couldn’t take that much pain in one sitting) I am not surprised that many people have coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.  It made me  do a quick search for some GIF’s with clowns and putting them together is quite creepy.

Try to have a great day after taking a gander at these joymakers.

He  Clown Clowns and Globe He Who Gets Slapped Clown Laugh Clown Laugh gif

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The FearA few days back I talked briefly about a series of pieces from 2006 called Outlaws, small and dark figurative paintings of individuals sometimes looking out windows, sometimes holding handguns.  They were a departure and some followers of my work were a bit put off.  Some were fearful of the figures, seeing them as menacing.  Most saw the fear in these characters, their past haunting them.

There was an observation I made concerning people’s reactions.  Those who were disturbed by the images saw the central figure as an intruder peering in through the window.  Those who were more empathetic with these figures saw them looking out the window.  They saw that these characters were the fearful ones.

These pieces were inspired by some silent films I was watching at the time.  These films from around 1918-1927 were made in the aftermath of the first World War, a time when expressionism emerged.  Many of these films were dark and gritty, filled with raw emotion and violence.  When two figures fought, it was not the clean, one-punch knockouts of later films.  They grappled, clawing at one another in a horrible realism.  One that stands out is  Sunrise  from the great F.W. Murnau, probably best known for his vampire classic,  Nosferatu.  It is the story of a married farmer seduced by a city woman who conspires to kill his wife and go to the city.  It’s a great story that is dark and full of wonderful imagery.  There is a train ride into the city that is a great piece of film.  Though most people think that Wings won the first Oscar for best picure, Sunrise won the award that year as Most Unique and Artistic Production, a short lived award that basically  split the Best Movie award into two parts.  It was great then and is still quite moving.Confession

Also, around that time I saw a group of Goya’s small pieces at the Frick in NYC.  They were done by covering  ivory palates with carbon and dripping water on to the surface then manipulating the puddle until an image emerges.  I was taken by them, mainly because I fully understood the technique.  It was how I had taught myself to paint.  I saw it as an opportunity to express the faces and figures that have inhabited my mind for decades.

I only do a few of these a year now and the handful I have in the studio are what I consider personal treasures that still provoke thought from me, time and time again.Night and the City

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