Watching Rushmore the other day, I was struck by how wonderful it is to have an original painting in a film, and how often such paintings have some crucial significance, often as a plot point. Given the trouble and expense of commissioning an original artwork (however bad it may be), it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that artworks comissioned for films are often more significant than the run-of-the-mill piece of set dressing.
With that in mind, what original, commissioned paintings, sculptures, etc. from films would you include in a hypothetical exhibit, in which intrinsic artistic merit can freely take a back seat to the art work’s significance to the film (as is usually the case)? Wouldn’t it be a gas to see such a show and play “I.D. the film” instead of regarding the “artworks” seriously as art?
OTTOMH, I’d include:
The full-length oil portrait of Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s a key plot point, in that Merle Oberon first realizes that her effete husband and the legendary hero are one and the same when she notices the prominent pimpernel ring her dear Percy modelled in the painting… an open secret, as it were. There’s always a certain, charming cognitive dissonance when a movie star is portrayed in a historically hidebound way – in this case, circa 1794? [Bonus value: since the 1936 film was B&W, it’d be an extra treat to see this painting in color for the first time.]
The hilariously sardonic family portrait of the Blumes in Rushmore, with Bill Murray’s Blume, his soon-to-be-estranged wife, and their two rough-and-tumble sons in a tableau of family dysfunction. Murray’s alienation as the unhappy paterfamilias is stark, in his separation from the others, his downcast, troubled gaze, and that bathetic cigarette drooping out the corner of his mouth. I don’t know if this painting can be considered as great work of art in its own right, but it’s a great gag.
The before-and-after full-length oil portraits of Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray , depicting the steady degradation of Dorian’s soul. Here, at least, paintings commissioned for a film found a life after the film. The artist whose work is used in the film was actually a “real” artist with something of a reputation in the art world, and the final portrait of Dorian Gray took him a year to complete.
The small sculpted marble figurine of Venus by “Cellini” – actually a clever forgery by Audrey Hepburn’s grandfather – in How To Steal a Million . The plot is of a heist necessitated by the prior fraud of pawning off the forgery to a museum years prior; Hepburn must take it back to prevent the museum’s tests from incriminating her beloved grandpa. Hepburn enlists a partner in crime [Peter O’Toole], whose character is personally attracted to the sculpture because of its ostensible resemblance to Audrey Hepburn (whom he’s also attracted to), due to its family connection to her through her grandmother, who modelled for it – albeit, as he notes, “naturally that was before she started eating those enormous lunches.”
Speaking of lawbreaking grandfathers, there’s the demented oil portrait of the original Dr. Victor Frankenstein (grandfather to Gene Wilder’s young Dr. Frankenstein and “boyfriend” to Cloris Leachman) in Young Frankenstein. Since this artwork was highlighted in fake lightning flashes in the film, I think it’d be appropriate to exhibit this one with a small strobe light set to go off intermittently, for verisimilitude. Granted, such forms of illumination as strobe lights are generally a big no-no around great works of art, but this hypothetical exhibit ain’t that kind of show…
Now, Dopers, if you were to “loan” a few pieces…?