It’s no accident that one of the best-known series of cinema-analyzing video essays bears the title Every Frame a Painting. When describing the height of film’s visual potential, we often draw metaphors from art history, but the relationship also goes in another direction: more often than we might think, the filmmakers and their collaborators looked to the canvases of the masters for inspiration in the first place. In this trilogy of short video essays, “Film Meets Art,” “Film Meets Art II,” and “Film Meets Art III,” Vugar Efendi highlights some of the most striking paintings-turned-shots in the work of, among other auteurs, Alfred Hitchcock, Terry Gilliam, Quentin Tarantino, and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Efendi, writes Slate’s Madeline Raynor in a post on the second installment, “places shots from films side by side with the paintings that inspired them. And once you see the pairings, you won’t be able to unsee them. Some of these are unmistakable references — like Jean-Luc Godard’s ode to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres — while others are more subtle.
Filmmakers have been recreating paintings since the days of silent film: the video’s earliest example is 1927’s Metropolis.” More recent instances include Alex Colville’s To Prince Edward Island in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, and Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. While perhaps too obvious for inclusion into these essays, Wim Wenders once satirized this process with a movie-within-a-movie recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks in The End of Violence.
Which painters do filmmakers most often turn to for material? Efendi’s visual essays show us a fair few memorable and varied uses of Hopper, whose paintings possess a cinematic atmosphere of their own, and also Magritte, possibly because his dreamlike sensibility aligns well with that of cinema itself: L’empire des lumières in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, La Robe du soir in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (winner of last year’s Best Picture Oscar), and Architecture au clair de Lune in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. Weir’s work makes another appearance in the essays in the form of Picnic at Hanging Rock, a haunting film based on a haunting novel written in part out of fascination with a haunting painting, William Ford’s At the Hanging Rock — whose imagery then made it back into the screen adaptation. It seems that art, be it on canvas, film, or some medium yet unimagined, tells the story of civilization in more ways than one.
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.