10 Lavish Movie Scenes Inspired By Paintings
Art and cinema have had a complex and fruitful collaboration from the start. Filmmakers have often drawn inspiration from art, letting the work of great artists inspire and guide everything from their color palette to the structure of their shots. As one might expect, examples of directors evoking the paintings of Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci or Vincent van Gogh are not lacking. Here we have bought you ten great examples.
In the early days of cinema, there was a feeling that the medium should be distinct from all other art forms. It was a mode of artistic creation based on the placement of abstract images in a particular order to evoke a specific emotional response. Silent film directors didn’t want to rely on title cards; they wanted to tell stories using only images.
As such, the paintings have become an important point of reference for many directors, and there are countless examples of directors using them as inspiration and actively recreating them. In a way, that makes sense. The director and the painter may work with different tools, but they tend towards the same result: to guide their audience in a world between the four walls of a frame.
10 movie scenes inspired by works of art:
inherent vice: The last supper
Leonardo DeVinci The last supper depicts a scene from the Gospel of John, chapter 13, verse 21, when Jesus declares that one of his twelve disciples will betray him. Where previous Last Supper scenes identified Judas by depicting him as the only apostle without a halo, Da Vinci’s oil fresco is different – instead depicting the traitor with his head turned into the shadows.
In the Inherent Vice scene, Paul Thomas Anderson recreates Da Vinci’s religious masterpiece where a group of hippies gather around a table to dine on pizza. A photographer walks in to take their portrait, capturing them at the exact moment they are arranged according to the blocking of The last supper. It might be a stuffed crust, but they still break bread.
The Exorcist: The Empire of Lights
Produced by one of the surrealist movement’s most important and enduring artists, The Empire of Lights saw René Magritte continue his exploration of mind-bending oxymorons by depicting houses that seem to exist in a space between day and night. In one painting in particular, daylight in the upper part of the canvas juxtaposes night in the lower half, creating a dizzying sense of dislocation.
The ExorcisDirector William Friedkin recreated Magritte’s work for the scene where the priest approaches the house of the possessed. Both in the director’s use of light and in the overall composition of the shot, the scene is incredibly evocative of The Empire of Light cycle – perfectly capturing the disharmonious spiritual aura that surrounds the house.
Dreams: Wheat field with crows
Surely one of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings, Wheat fields with crows, is often described as the very last the artist finished before committing suicide. In fact, he did several other works after this one. Nevertheless, the artist seems to have perceived melancholy in everything he put on the canvas during this period. This work, with its dark sky filled with winged omens, is a good example.
Akira Kurosawa recreates this painting in one of the beautiful vignettes of dreams, perhaps the most personal and endearing of all the director’s films. The 1990 pic was apparently based on the director’s real-life dreams, which he roused from his sleep and spun into eight episodic and surprisingly transcendent stories.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: The birth of Venus
Designed for the powerful Medici family, Sandro Botticelli The birth of Venus is one of the most iconic depictions of the Roman goddess of love. Venus – or Aphrodite in the ancient Greek tradition – was born from the foam of the sea and was the most beautiful of all the gods. And of all the depictions of her in sculpture and painting, Botticelli’s is widely considered the most magnificent.
As the epitome of feminine beauty, it’s no surprise that Botticelli’s Venus has spent quite a bit of screen time. In Terry Gilliam’s fantasy adventure film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, for example, she is given new life by Uma Thurman, who emerges from a giant clam dressed in, well, not much at all.
The desire to live: The Night Cafe
Another Van Gogh now. Completed in 1888, The Night Cafe was executed on heavy industrial primed canvas. It depicts the interior of a quiet cafe after dark. Five patrons are seated at tables along the red walls left and right, while a waiter in a pale coat directs the viewer’s gaze to the pool table in the center of the room.
The striking artwork is recreated down to the colors of the walls in the 1956 biopic van Gogh thirst for life, which starred Kirk Douglas as the troubled artist. Decades later, directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman went even further to tell the story of van Gogh’s life by bringing to life thousands and thousands of post-Impressionist oil paintings.
Pan’s Labyrinth: Saturn devouring his son
There aren’t many paintings as disturbing as Francisco Goya’s Saturn devouring his son. Even if you don’t know anything about the art, you’ll recognize this deeply unnerving portrait of the ancient god tearing the limbs of one of his descendants – his eyes wide with ecstasy. Most disturbingly, of course, is that this particular work was not made to be sold. It was painted on the walls of Goya’s house, La Quinta del Sordo, for no other reason (we can assume) than to bring to life something borrowed from deep within his psyche.
Guillermo del Toro was inspired by paintings from 1819-1823 to achieve his dark fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth – using the figure of the cannibalistic Titian as a model for The Pale Man, the eyeless, child-eating creature who guards the feast that Ofelia so foolishly feeds on while seeking Pan’s key.
Completed in 1851, John Everett Millais’ Opheliaas the name suggests, depicts the scene from Shakespeare Hamlet in which Ophelia is drowning in grief for her murdered father. Ophelia was a favorite figure among Pre-Raphaelite painters, as was model Elizabeth Siddal. The latter was to pose for Millais in a water bath heated by a lamp for four months. After a tough session, the lights went out, leading to Siddal catching a bad cold. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before his doctor threatened Millais with legal action.
The image used to promote Lars von Trier Melancholy, the third film in her “Depression Trilogy”, features the character of Kirstin Dunst dressed in matrimonial attire, holding a bouquet of flowers and kicking back into a river, clearly referencing Millais’ depiction of Siddal as the famous melancholic princess.
Gladiator: Pollice Verso
The Police BackWhere thumb turned, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, captures the moment when a victorious gladiator turns to the Roman emperor to decide the fate of his opponent. With its use of bright reds and pearlescent golds, you can almost hear the crowd screaming for blood.
The painting was apparently the inspiration behind Ridley Scott’s 2000 historical drama Gladiatorwhich includes a direct homage to Police Back in the scene where Emperor Commodus points his thumb at the sand, sealing the fate of the armored warrior Maximus has pinned to the floor of the Colosseum.
As producer Douglas Wick recalled in the 2000s, “We brought Ridley a late 1800s painting of the Roman Colosseum. It was beautifully shaded, and because it was kind of in the blush of the British Empire, it was slightly idealized. Ridley looked at the board and said, “I’ll do the movie.” Wherever the script is, we’ll do it well. I’m making this movie.
Metropolis: The Tower of Babel
Interestingly, the Colosseum itself was partly responsible for this next painting: that of Pieter Bruegel (Great) Tower of Babel. The artist completed the 1560 work at the age of 35, traveling to Rome to draw inspiration from the ancient structure’s impressive architecture to create an imaginary version of the biblical Tower of Babel as it was still under construction.
Babylon is the original city of sin. Fritz Lang clearly knew this – using Bruegel’s depiction of the city’s burgeoning library to inspire the urban architecture of Metropolis. The German expressionist masterpiece focuses on a bitter class struggle in a society where people have been divided into two categories: the thinkers, who live in the city’s skyscrapers, and the workers who spend all their life underground. Lang reimagined Bruegel’s version of the resplendent tower during the bustling Metropolis skyline scenes.
Shutter Island: The Kiss
If you’ve ever set foot in an art student’s bedroom, you’ll no doubt have glanced at Gustav Klimt’s obnoxiously famous. The kiss. Although symbolic of Klimt’s own romantic relationship with Emilie Flöge, the work captures two lovers embracing and melting into a shimmer of geometric colors.
In his psychological thriller Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese recreated the work (1907-1908), which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a U.S. Marshal assigned to investigate an insane asylum on a remote island. During one scene, DiCaprio and his wife, played by Michelle Williams, strike the exact same pose as the two lovers in The kiss – William’s suit bearing the same green and yellow patches that characterize the original painting.
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