Saturday 8 October 2022

An Embarrasment Of Raptures

Earlier this year I went on a trip to Rome and if I could sum up the city in one word, it would be 'theatre'. The whole place is alive with grand gestures created in stone, paint and gold. Stories upon stories crowd the streets told in the layered histories of buidlings and people. Even the natural landscape seems like a painted backdrop missing only the red velvet curtains to frame it..

Nowhere is the drama more evident than the many churches that sit in every quarter and offer a cool respite from the heat of the Italian sun.

It was on our first night there that I realised that one of my all time favourite art works was housed in a church only 18 minutes walk from our hotel. I went to bed that eveing not quite believing that in a few hours I'd get to see it.

The Santa Maria Della Vittoria is rather sedate from the outside, but walking through the doors and not knowing what to expect was a fantastic experience. It was like entering a huge treasure box filled with riches.

The church is a place of illusion where, long before Hogwarts took up the idea, the ceiling  billows with clouds like a building directly open to the heavens with angels spilling out to interact with the church below.

There are side chapels with ornate sculptures and canvases, yet, The Ecstacy of St Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is the piece that stands out. It sits upon it's own stage flanked by a stone audience of nobles and church officials who crane forward to witness the miracle before them.

...A young beautiful woman is supported by a cloud, she looks weightless as her nun's robes ripple about her body. A Cupid like angel, stands over her smiling. He holds a golden arrow which is aimed to once more plunge deep into her heart. In his other hand he lifts her gown uncovering his target. The woman is in a state of rapture, her fingers curl, her eyes roll back, her mouth is open and gasping. One foot hangs languid as she loses herself entirely.

I love this sculpture for it's sensuality and how Bernini took an already incredible story and ranked it up with sex and drama. No wonder those old men in their theatre boxes are staring and gossiping.

Saint Teresa of Avila was a real person who had lived in Spain almost a century before Bernini. She was a noble woman called to convent life and known for her 'embarassment of raptures' which she helpfully chronicled throughout her lifetime. The 'Ecstasy' as showcased in the scupture was recorded around the time she would have been 44 years old, she spoke of her encounter with an angel,

'I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it ..'

Bernini took the emotional, sensual and supernatural aspects of this experience and highlighted them instead of the pious canon people had been used to up that point. You only have to look at earlier representations of St Teresa to see the very staid way her 'rapture' had been conveyed.

By making the saint a young and beautiful woman and focusing on the lifting of her habit, the thrusting of the arrow, the glazing of her eyes and the curling of her toes, Bernini brought sex into the church and caused a sensation.

When it was unveiled in 1652, the marble brought controvery due to it's sensuality. Saints, of all people, just weren't portrayed with such capacity for pleasure or sexual allure. Yet it couldn't be ignored that this work was a masterpiece channeling a sense of theatre and drama that put passion, of both a religious and carnal nature, centre stage. Connecting with God had never been so hot!

Despite the religious scandal and criticism from Bernini's peers, the work was widely popular and the church took note. Perhaps a more fleshy and carnal take on the divine wasn't so bad when it captured so many people's attention. This work led to other commissions including the equally potent, yet less powerful, Ecstasy of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni which was completed some 20 years after Teresa.

Yet St Teresa stands out from anything that came later, and perhaps that is because it isn't just a sculpture, but an entire stage production incorporating painting, framing, lighting and stage effects.

A hidden yellow glass window above the 'hovering' saint channels holy light down onto her via gilded bronze rays that replicate energy beaming down from the heavens. This in turn creates a stark lighting that captures the undulatrung movement of many the folds in her habit and the transfixed expression on her face.

As a complete piece the art work is a masterpiece of Baroque, bursting with ornament. decoration and movement. To stand before it really is like witnessing a performance where every element is finely tuned to convey the drama of the story.

For me, seeing St Teresa in reality was almost overwhelming. I gasped. 'There she is!', when I spotted her and then stood gazing up at the sculpture trying to take in every ounce of detail for what seemed an age. I never ever thought that I would get the chance to see this piece of art with my own eyes and as I realised that I was actually there looking up at her, tears began to run down my face. The German tour group also there to see her must have thought I was having a religious experience, which in a way, I suppose I was.
Never underestimate the power of art.
I would go back to Italy in a heartbeat and I hope one day to do so. For now the thrill of the theatrics and the beauty of it's art is still running through me.

Saturday 1 October 2022

Blonde, a shameful mess to be avoided

Its fair to say that I didn't come to this film with an open mind, but even with the warnings in place I still gave it a go because as a Marilyn fan since childhood, a new movie about her is still an exciting prospect

However this isn't a film about Marilyn Monroe. I don’t know who this sacrificial lamb is but she meandered from scene to scene in a daze of tears and trauma as almost everyone she met either abused, raped or beat her. No one offered even a hint of humanity to this woman who seemed to have absolutely no agency whatsoever

This film pisses on the #metoo movement. This film is trash. Andrew Dominck should be ashamed. A woman director would never have put its female lead through so much lingering voyeuristic porn and cruelty

I found myself actually skipping whole scenes because seeing little wide eyed Norma Jeane get screwed over again and again frankly got boring as hell! 

It's important to know that BLONDE IS NOT A BIOPIC! It is a fictionalised retelling of Marilyn's story using only minimum fact as a base to build lurid details upon.

Marilyn Monroe's life was anything but easy, with well documented substance abuse brought on from childhood trauma and an undiagnosed mental condition. But as her husband the playwright Arthur Miller once said, "the struggle was valiant, she was a very courageous human being"

SHE WAS NOT A VICTIM. Marilyn had spark! She took on the patriarchal studio system to create her own production company. She stood up for civil rights and stood against McCarthyism. She refused to be typecast into the one dimensional role she was given and studied hard to hone her craft and she did all this in the era of the 1950's where a woman's voice counted for little

Using Marilyn's legacy to make this drivel is a slap in the face to everything she achieved and worked through to get to where she did. She came from nothing and literally became a Hollywood legend!

In all the decades since Marilyn struggled to be taken seriously and be seen as more than just tits and ass, this film underlines that things haven't changed as much as we like to think. She put it best when she said Hollywood was, "a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”

Don't bother watching this film