Art History at the Movies: The Agony and the Ecstasy

Do you like art and epic films of Old Hollywood?  Then you will enjoy The Agony and the Ecstasy, a movie adapted from Irving Stone’s book.  Feels so different from the movies with a more intimate setting that I have reviewed for this blog so far.  I love how the beginning of the film features all of Michelangelo’s sculpture.  The camera lovingly films all of his work while the narrator informs us their names and titles.  However, when they showed Saint Peter’s Basilica, I wondered how long it took for them to wait for a rainbow to show.  Because of the film’s grandeur, I think how awesome if Imax showed this in their theaters.  Just imagine the circular screens just wrapping you up in gorgeous art.

  Featuring an all-star cast of actors such as Adopho Celi, Rex Harrison and Charlton Heston.  Born in the eighties, it cracks me up just thinking about Heston as Michelangelo.  For me, I will always remember Heston as the Moses playing, former sci-fi action hero turned NRA spokesman.  For instance, when Buonarroti runs away and hides out from the Pope over the idea of painting the Sistine ceiling, Heston gives Michelangelo this action hero look to him.  He does play Michelangelo well, giving him a human side along with the talent and ego.  Rex Harrison’s Pope Julius II depicts him as a man trying to keep power and control over everyone thanks to various battles against other territories and Michelangelo himself.  They use a lot of red in this movie.  Red flowers, red clothing, red everything.  It does give the movie’s’ cinematography a rich look to it.

The Agony and the Ecstasy takes a slow but not dull pace as we watch Michelangelo clash with his patrons over his behavior.  However, out of this behavior would give birth to one of the most celebrated murals produced out of the Western World.  Anyone who has ever stressed out over creating something will relate to Michelangelo’s struggle.  Artists Bramante and Raphael also make appearances, since they too contributed to architecture of the Vatican.  Hilariously, actor Adolpho Celi (of Danger: Diabolik and Thunderball fame) plays Giovanni de’Medici who acts as the long-suffering mediator between the Pope and Michelangelo.  One interesting note, the DVD of this movie has special that depicts the movie’s restoration of its bright color scheme.  Quite interesting because of the restoration controversy over the real Sistine Chapel painting.  Also, I think this film may have inspired the Michelangelo sketch from Monty Python’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl.

All in all, a very beautiful film with lots of gorgeous detail and engaging storylines.  Carol Reed directs everyone with this sense of love and need to show how important a place Michelangelo’s body of work sits in art history.

Update 7-18-15: Added a link, removed some dead ones, and fixed a sentence.

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