Recently I started drawing images from films in my sketchbook. I draw them from memory, at almost thumbnail size, within a day or two of seeing the movie. I’m finding it a good way to keep a dialogue going with a film, recording images that struck me in some way. It’s part film diary, part swipe file… As a drawing exercise, in its modest way it follows the tenet of DaVinci among other artists that images should be created from memory–the emphasis thus placed on alertness and recall over direct observation and recording.
The first one is from Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt), which I saw at Film Forum recently. I drew these with very little penciling in my Moleskine. The first still is a statue of Poseidon which appears against a shocking blue sky throughout the film as a kind of silent chorus. The second still is what I consider to be a classic Godard composition: a complicated interior space with lots of frames and vertical barriers separating the alienated characters (the figure directly facing Michel Piccoli is in fact a statue).
You can come across some beautiful shots in otherwise mediocre films. For example: Santo Contra el Rey del Crímen. As much affection as I have for masked wrestlers and their loony, surrealist aura, the truth is that most Santo movies are really turgid affairs. But they always have a few memorable scenes and images. The first one here shows “young” Santo about to don the mask for the first time. The figure in the mirror is his Alfred-like butler/assistant Matías. I really like the mannered framing, meant to conceal Santo’s true identity from us. The second image is more typical of the kind of cool, Orson Welles/Alex Toth chiaroscuro you’ll sometimes see.
These are lovely.
My own visual memory is pretty awful, but this would be a good way to train it. (Actually, my entire memory is awful and to that end, I’ve been recording every book, movie, art show, whatever I read or see in an Excel document on my computer, with notes and impressions. But I digress.)
I paused The Good the Bad and the Ugly once and drew a frame of a guy in a window- a lovely composition. Yesterday, I saw Fatih Akin’s “The Edge of Heaven” (great movie, stupid title) and my heart skipped when I recognized a similar composition. Not an homage or anything, just a guy in a window in a similar place in the composition. I realized this is what it must feel like to have a good visual memory, to always be making visual connections. I wish I had that.
Also sad I missed all the Goddard at FF. I think Vivre Sa Vive is still playing…
I love those cerulean sequences in Contempt….it’s great foreshadowing, reminding the audience that not even the gods could control their destiny. Can humans do any better? The film answers with a resounding, deadly ‘non’. Plus, great Fritz Lang voiceover. Contempt was my first ‘auteur’ film – what a place to start!
Thanks for these…
(and it was so great to see you – and, briefly, Jessica – in NYC…)
Matt Madden says
Ellen, though Tom just left another thoughtful and interesting comment, I think yours might be the best one I’ve received yet on this blog. Thanks! I didn’t realize that Lang did the narration… And great to see you too.