Friday, 27 August 2010


Last night I attended the UK premiere of the new print of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The last time I saw the film must have been something like ten years ago, and I have to confess that it didn't do much for me at the time. But last night all of my doubts were blown away. Sure, the ending is still sentimentally simplistic, but it's impossible not to be swept away by the sheer scale and ambition of it all. Even by today's standards it's impressive, but considering it comes from 1927 it's nothing short of monumental. But it's not only the baroque excess that impresses. It's everything. The scene where Rotwang chases Maria around the catacombs by flashlight struck me as especially effective, a masterpiece of tension. Seeing the film with the new footage, one wonders how the film ever worked without it. Perhaps it didn't (it would explain my lukewarm the first time I saw it). But whatever the case, it certainly works now. So whether you've seen Metropolis before or not, if you haven't yet seen the new restoration, well, you haven't yet seen Metropolis. And boy, are you missing out!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

On the Trail of Tarkovsky

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the last two weeks of July on holiday in Umbria. A two-week summer trip to Italy has been something of a family tradition for many years now, with 2010 marking our 14th trip.

In 2008 we stayed in a villa near Siena, and decided to take a trip back to Bagno Vignoni, the spa town where
Tarkovsky shot parts of Nostalghia, including the ending. We'd been before, years ago, but this was the first trip since I'd discovered Tarkovsky.

Me in Bagno Vignoni, 2008.

This year, my Dad, who is also a huge Tarkovsky fan, decided that we should continue the Tarkovsky trail and go and visit the tiny town of Monterchi, in order to see Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto, the fresco from the opening sequence of Nostalghia. Much to my Dad's chagrin, I've always hated Piero's work, but due to the Tarkovsky connection I was, for once, happy to go along and see one of his works. At least I'd get to walk around the church where Tarkovsky shot, so I thought. But then my Dad told me that the fresco is no longer in the church where it originated, but is instead installed in a museum, detached from everything except a clinical white room. Sigh.

But Dad was still keen to go and see the original church, so the day was not yet lost.

Arriving in Monterchi, though, something didn't feel right. Nothing looked familiar. We asked about access to the original church, and were told it would be locked. Frustrated, I gazed upon the fresco and sighed. There was no mystical revelation: Piero's still crap, and I didn't even get to see a Tarkovsky landmark.

Returning to the villa at the end of the day, there was still something about what we'd seen in Monterchi that made me wonder if, somewhere, there had been a mistake. Was this really where Tarkovsky had been?

I hit Google and stumbled across
this article by James Macgillivray. It seems my instinct was right. Apparently Tarkovsky used a replica of the fresco in Nostalghia, installed in a church some 120 kilometers from Monterchi! Who knew? (Well, James Macgillivray, obviously, but who else?).

So, a word to the wise for those seeking to follow the trail of Tarkovsky: avoid Monterchi. Tarkovsky did.

Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto

Monday, 2 August 2010

Quote for the Week

This weekend I arrived back in London from a fantastic two week trip to Umbria. As is usual for my family holidays in Italy, we spent time reading and relaxing, but also visiting local towns and soaking in as much renaissance art as possible. Although I loved the two books I read while I was away (David Bordwell's Figures Traced in Light and Nikos Kazantzakis' Freedom and Death), I thought I'd go for a visual quote this week, celebrating some of my favourites from among the artworks we saw.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Luca Signorelli

Pala di Santa Maria de' Fossi (detail) by Pinturicchio

The Miracle of the Spring by Giotto

Saint Francis by Cimabue

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico