Film Micrœview #33: Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998)

12.29.2013 § Leave a comment

I thought the efforts to render scenes in manners corresponding to the Bacon paintings inspired by the same events were successful. Having recently read Michael Peppiatt’s biography Anatomy of an Enigma (2009), I was keenly aware of shortcomings in the portrayal of Bacon himself, however.

Love is the Devil was not devoid of reality, but hyperbolized and superficialized references to fact. It was based more closely on the earlier book The Gilded Gutter Life by Daniel Farson (1994). I have not read this earlier book, but understand of it what I think I need to from Peppiatt’s work. Peppiatt was a friend of Bacon’s from his time in France, and had a much more holistic picture of Bacon’s life. Peppiatt has the whole history (even prehistory) as well as a far more nuanced perspective on his personality. I highly recommend the book (although it was poorly written — repetitive in a weird way, disorderly, cycling back on the same material over and over). But were you to read only The Gilded Gutter Life, you might not understand how generous and compassionate Bacon was toward his friends. At least, watching Love is the Devil, I felt Bacon was portrayed as cold and insensitive. I didn’t get the impression from Anatomy of an Enigma that Bacon ever allowed his occupation to distance himself from his relationships; rather I gathered that Bacon lived life to the fucking fullest, hardly ever sleeping, getting up earlier and doing his due of painting, then beginning to hit the pubs at 2pm.

Love is the Devil focuses exclusively on Bacon’s relationship with George Dyer. It only hints at his other most important earlier relationship with Peter Lacy. I think this was a good move for the film — Dyer is more accessible. He is definitely the vehicle through which we enter the film, encounter Bacon, and ultimately exit, and nothing more of Bacon is seen (here’s an example of his cruelty seen in the film: the rendering of the true spoken line of his, when Dyer died on the eve of his Grand Palais exhibition, “you can only laugh or cry,” I feel was so flippant, rather than matter-of-fact, in the ways Bacon is elsewhere seen in the film [accurately] to sarcastically turn down Dyer’s compliment as “expert appraisal” and an admirer’s invitation to his studio with a no via an insult to his taste in neckties [which for most men would be inevitably rude but somehow Bacon carries these with a dignity as if respecting everyone’s propriety]). I might still wish for another Bacon film that functioned more like a biopic, chronicling his life from childhood in Ireland during earlier revolutionary rumblings, through Weimar Berlin, his travels in North and South Africa, going into more detail about his relationships with his mother and father, and Lacy and his nanny Jessie Lightfoot.

Tilda Swinton looked crazy as Muriel Belcher. I hardly recognized her.

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