Hollywood and the Man Within My Head

Cézanne, Eternal Feminine (C.1877) Oil on canvas.

I’m always intrigued on perusing The Times Book Review by how many articles explain the object of their study in terms similar to those used here. It is no coincidence, of course. Every painter paints himself and all it entails is probably the underlying preconception of art in any medium, not just painting, an understanding so common in all its infinite variety that it should not surprise. Yet it continually does. Pico Iyer’s study of Graham Greene’s life, The Man Within My Head, was published in the Review this week and its title well describes the underlying setting of countless works of art, paintings in which the figures act within the artist’s mind.1 Cézanne’s assorted men crowding around the Eternal Feminine (above) face the white of the artist’s eye as though they themselves were within the artist’s head behind his eye. Goya did likewise, so too Raphael, Titian and Rembrandt. Classic Hollywood movies were discussed last year in similar terms, as movies about making movies, whether the plot centers on a writer working out plots or an “actor” performing different roles.

This year’s crop of Hollywood nominations is no different. Both The Artist and Hugo are movies about making movies while The Help and Midnight in Paris are about writers writing the book on which the movie is based. All four feature artists working on their craft. This knowledge must be of benefit to screenwriters because the chances of writing a successful screenplay are clearly enhanced by it. And if something so obvious is little known about Hollywood films, it is not so surprising that others fail to see the same issues in our subjects: painting, sculpture and prints. Yet it is no less true.

1. Lisel Schillinger, "Fellow Traveller" (Review of Iyer's The Man Within My Head) , The New York Times Book Review, Jan. 1st 2012, p. 9

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