We have all heard the famous phrase "Life Imitates Art", introduced by Oscar Wilde on his essay The Decay of Lying (more on that on another article), but what about the times that Art imitates Art? Many well-known directors have spiced up some of their scenes by interlacing their visual narration with recognizable pieces of art, using various means like props, scenography and the actors themselves.
If someone has not yet understood the topic at hand, they have -for sure- seen the parallirism of the scene from Shutter Island, when Dicaprio holds his loved one put next to Klimt's most famous piece, "The Kiss".
Below there shall be presented a small list of these examples, following a journey between centuries of artistic practice.
Scream and... The Scream
It was a thought that came suddenly one night, that Ghostface kind of looks like Munch's figure on Scream. When I looked it up, I was not surprised to see that I was not the only one to make this observation. The skull's shape, the black robe and the form that both of the figures' mouth takes, plus the desperation depicted on both their eyes make the resemblance manifest.
2. A Clockwork Orange and Prisoners Exercising
There is no introduction needed for the genius that Stanley Kubrick possesed. In his 1971 work A Clockwork Orange there is this scene where the prisoners circle around prison's yard in a united movement, a moment captured firstly by Vincent van Gogh in 1890 on Prisoners Exercising. The resemblance is uncanny. Non only do the prisoners pose in a similar manner, but also the perspective of the walls built around the figures remain almost unchanged; not to mention the spot where the guard stands in this 70s' masterpiece.
3. The Birth of Venus in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
The Goddess of love and beauty is rebirthed in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in this iconic scene. Terry Gilliam choses Uma Thurman to revive the part of Aphrodite with the reconstruction of Botticelli's Renaissance paintng, choosing two female figures to complete the frame. In the Birth of Venus, however, there is also a male figure, the wind Zephyrus, an element eluded in Gilliam's frame, making it an all-female-affair.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road and The Elephants
Surrealism finds dystopia, Salvador Dali finds George Miller and I find this resemblance amazing. Both of these high figures with the abnormal limbs are set on a deserted landscape, looking down on their path. What captures the eye is the contrast between the colour pallete between the two, the one using warm, orange tones and the other all shades of blue.
5. Melancholia and Ophelia
Lars Von Trier meets John Everett Millais and the results are more atmospheric than ever. The paradox of existence and the whole concept of madness both find shelter on these women's faces. Nature consumes them and the water carries them away, making them both pray to their fate.
6. Pennies from Heaven and Nighthawks
If seen from afar, there is a possibility that one might not be able to tell apart the painting from the movie frame. The figures from Herbert Ross' Pennies from Heaven are perfectly positioned according to Edward Hopper's masterpiece, Nighthawks. Another ingredient to success is the chosen color pallete and the lighting that help revive the painting.
7. Viridiana and The Last Supper
Luis Buñuel pays tribute to Leonardo Da Vinci within this scene, where a group of people are placed on the one side of a big dinning table, the leader on the center, enjoying their supper, even mimicking the poses of the Apostoles. Another interesting element is the scene's perspective that does justice to the innovative eye of Da Vinci.
8. About Schmidt and The Death of Marat
Ladies and Gentlemen, Jack Nicolson! Alexander Payne sets up a reference to Jacques-Louis David with ultimate success, utilizing Nicolson's mighty acting talent. Taking a closer look, it is easy for someone to spot the similarities. Except from the obvious resemblance of the two bodies, all the other elements align as well, such as the diagonals of the objects (towels, piece of paper etc...)
9. The House That Jack Built and The Barque of Dante
Last but not least is Lars Von Trier mention of Eugène Delacroix. The reenactment of the scene is staunchly following suit, with the surrounding figures taking the exact same positions as the ones in the painting. One can easily spot the similarity of the hellscape escorting the backgrounds, as well as the change of tones and hues on the clouded sky.
This list could be continued for a vague amount of time, having seen many loyal depictions of traditional artistic pieces in the big screen. However, we may content ourselves with some of the pioneering examples of the hundreds that cinema art has to provide. Bringing yesterday into today, these frames embody the evolution of arts and the legacy that the Old-Fathers of painting have left behind for us to cherish.
Domestika. (n.d.). 20 Artworks That Inspired Famous Movie Scenes | Blog. [online] Available at: https://www.domestika.org/en/blog/10026-20-artworks-that-inspired-famous-movie-scenes.
Emmanuelle (2021). When Art and Film Become One: 9 Movies Inspired by Art. [online] Artsper Magazine. Available at: https://blog.artsper.com/en/lifestyle/when-art-and-film-become-one-9-movies-inspired-by-art/.