Terry Gilliam Explains His Never-Ending Fascination with Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”

As I recall, if you asked men in the 1990s to describe ide­al the woman, a great many would have made ref­er­ences to Uma Thur­man, who spent that decade play­ing high-pro­file roles in acclaimed movies like Pulp Fic­tion and Gat­ta­ca—as well as less-acclaimed movies like The Avengers and Bat­man & Robin (but hey, you can’t pick win­ners all the time). But ani­ma­tor, direc­tor, Amer­i­can Mon­ty Python mem­ber and all-around vision­ary Ter­ry Gilliam made use of the pow­er­ful appeal of Thur­man’s pres­ence even ear­li­er, when—making The Adven­tures of Baron Mun­chausen—-he need­ed just the right young lady for a scene recre­at­ing San­dro Bot­ti­cel­li’s Renais­sance paint­ing The Birth of Venus.

“The cast­ing direc­tor in L.A. said, ‘You’ve got to meet this girl,’ ” Gilliam remem­bers in the clip from this year’s BBC Arts doc­u­men­tary Bot­ti­cel­li’s Venus: The Mak­ing on an Icon at the top of the post. “There she was: stat­uesque, beau­ti­ful, intelligent—incredibly intel­li­gent.” He com­pares the orig­i­nal can­vas itself to a “widescreen cin­e­ma,” as well as, just as apt­ly, to a low­er art form entire­ly: “The winds are blow­ing, her hair starts bil­low­ing out, the dress­ing girl is bring­ing in the robe — it’s a real­ly fun­ny paint­ing, look­ing at it again, because she’s there, sta­t­ic, ele­gant, naked, sexy. The robe would­n’t look so good if the winds weren’t blow­ing, nor would her hair look so beau­ti­ful. It’s like, this is a com­mer­cial for sham­poo!”

As Mon­ty Python fans all know, Gilliam had worked with The Birth of Venus before, using his sig­na­ture cutout ani­ma­tion tech­nique, which defined much of the look and feel of Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus, to make Venus dance. “I like test­ing how much I like some­thing, or how beau­ti­ful some­thing is, by mak­ing fun of it,” he says to his BBC inter­view­er. “If it with­stands my silli­ness, it’s real­ly great art.” Fur­ther props to Bot­ti­cel­li come at the end of the clip, when she asks Gilliam if he thinks Venus rep­re­sents “the ulti­mate male fan­ta­sy.” “Oh, why not?” he imme­di­ate­ly replies. “You don’t do much bet­ter than that. I think he real­ly cracked that one.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Botticelli’s 92 Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy

Ter­ry Gilliam Reveals the Secrets of Mon­ty Python Ani­ma­tions: A 1974 How-To Guide

Ter­ry Gilliam’s Debut Ani­mat­ed Film, Sto­ry­time

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.