Friday, 27 January 2012

Savage Messiah

'Savage Messiah' is a tricky one for me. At one point, I thought it was the worst film I'd ever seen, yet I'd watch it every time it was on, as I gained a perverse enjoyment from being annoyed by it.

The story of French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brezeska, it was a film that Russell desperately wanted to make, sinking a huge amount of his own money into the production. Ken's enthusiasm for the subject explodes onto the screen in a frenzy of shouting and sledgehammer cinema: it's as subtle as a flying house brick, and as sophisticated - it makes a great artist look like a petulant twat and does very little to translate Gaudier-Brezeska's genius to the screen. Instead, he just keeps saying he's a genius, and those around him keep saying he's a genius and you're supposed to believe it, all the time thinking, well, he's just a petulant twat, isn't he? - an over excited show off adolescent layabout with a Mother complex. This isn't helped by the casting of Scott Antony in the lead role. He's awful, one of the worst actors to ever take star billing in a film (his career was short lived - there's nothing in the IMDB for him after 1974), and he just makes you want to punch him repeatedly in the face until you run out of knuckles. 

Street Art.

Do sculptors really sculpt with their tongues out, like kids?

'ere, that looks like that Dame Helen Mirren.

Watch your hand on that radiator, Helen.
To be fair to Ken, he's trying to depict the creative process, one of the most difficult and mysterious things to put on screen. Christopher Logue's script is declamatory and very theatrical, and artistic inspiration is usually displayed by Gaudier-Brzeska jumping up suddenly and running around like a five year old full of Corona, yelling his artistic manifesto at passers by. The intensity of it all is further underlined by the constant circular aesthetic arguments he has with his muse / best friend / fake sister / unrequited love Sophie (Dorothy Tutin). In real life, Sophie was an intellectual who had a huge influence on Henri (he added her surname Brzeska to his own in recognition) - here she just comes across as a clinging pain in the arse.

Overawed by genius.
I suppose my feeling for this film sums up how I feel about Russell's work generally: I'm both fascinated and repelled by it. But it is very entertaining, and it's striving to say something, which is more than can be said for a lot of cinema. Ken always tried, and he tried hard: his success rate is neither here nor there.

The Art of War.
Gaudier-Brzeska was killed in France in June, 1915, another output from the mechanised death machine that was World War One. One of his last actions was to carve a Madonna and Child into the butt of a captured German rifle: creative to the end.  The film ends with a posthumous exhibition of his work - the artist only lived for 24 years, but his art has had a considerably longer shelf life. If inclined, you can see a number of his works at the Tate Britain and Modern. His 'Bird Swallowing Fish' is currently on loan to the Wakefield Hepworth Museum: it's extraordinary.

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