- Part of...Critic's Choice: Patricia Bickers, Sarah Kent, Mark Lawson & Tim Marlow
- Media Lounge
Watching the credit "Director: Tracy Emin" scrolling down the screen after a showing of her Top Spot (2004) at the London Film Festival last year, I began to think about the traffic between visual art and cinema: a road that runs in both directions.
The subject immediately brings to mind great artists appearing on screen either in person - Picasso captured in Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1956 film Le Mystère Picasso - or, more often, impersonated: from Charlton Heston shrieking at the Sistine ceiling in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) through Anthony Hopkins in James Ivory's Surviving Picasso (1996) to Ed Harris dripping paint in Pollock (2002).
But Emin is the latest among artists who have made the reverse journey: from studio to movie studio. Andy Warhol, who had a general interest in images on large screens, made several movies including Bike Boy (1963) and, more recently, Julian Schnabel helmed (as they say in Variety) Basquiat (1996).
There is less cultural novelty now than even a decade ago in an established artist going behind the camera because many established artists these days are rarely found anywhere else: all four artists shortlisted for the 2004 Turner Prize, for example, work prominently with video installations.
However, this blurring between two visual worlds - art and cinema/TV - gives additional weight to the first question I want this exhibition to explore. Could and should a video installation by an artist be regarded as cinema or is it a different game with separate rules. Emin's Top Spot - which would have been easily accepted if screened on a gallery wall as part of a latest retrospective - became subject to new considerations when it aimed at multiplexes.
There was trouble over certification - leading the artist to withdraw the film, except for exhibition screenings, such as the one in this season - and a generally bewildered or vicious reception from critics offered it alongside romcoms and cop blockbusters. So does Top Spot (and Basquiat and Bike Boy) prove that the disciplines of video artist and cinema director are generally incompatible?
Cinema's acceptance of artists as subjects has been much readier. It's easy to see why. The average great artist throughout history has been male, middle-aged, sexually voracious, depressive and tending to die in some kind of violence. These factors encourage immediate identification from actors and directors, the latter also frequently empathising with the trouble many of these guys had in getting their images past the critics and censors of the day.
This explains why the bites at Van Gogh have ranged from Vincente Minelli's Lust For Life (1956) through Paul Cox's Vincent (1987) and Robert Altman's Vincent and Theo (1990). But the same type of semi-deranged alpha male is also being explored by Derek Jarman in Caravaggio (1986) and John Maybury in 1998's Love Is The Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon.
Artists in movies have tended to be male, although they fit no obvious Hollywood stereotype of masculinity, having frequently been gay or ambiguous to a degree unacceptable in other movie genres. Even so, Julie Taymor's Frida (2002) may represent an adjustment of assumptions as, from behind the camera, do Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) and, which is where we came in, Emin's Top Spot.
Screen Printing - The Artist and the Movies ©Mark Lawson
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