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Image Entertainment presents

Francis Bacon (1988)

Bragg: You didn't go to art school, did you?
Bacon: No, thank god. I would have been taught all those techniques [that] I don't want to know.- Melvyn Bragg, Francis Bacon

Stars: Francis Bacon
Other Stars: Melvyn Bragg
Director: David Hinton

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (the nude represented in art, some language)
Run Time: 00h:54m:52s
Release Date: 2001-03-06
Genre: art

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

It is difficult to linger over the work of Francis Bacon. But it is impossible to dismiss his powerful, twisted images of a terrible kind of beauty. I have never formed a complete opinion, finding myself both drawn into his paintings and repulsed by them, all at once. After viewing this one-hour film, it is still hard for me to decide which way to go.

Melvyn Bragg, who returns to the series to present Francis Bacon, doesn't help the fence-sitters. In his introduction, he claims that Bacon is "widely held to be the greatest living painter in the world." Yet from the moment of their first filmed meeting, which takes place in a darkened storeroom at the Tate Gallery before a slideshow of various paintings (Bacon's and others), Bragg harasses and antagonizes his guest in a manner I find utterly offensive. He begins insidiously by showing the artist slides of works by Pollock and Rothko (both of whom Bacon is known to dislike), and hits his mark soon after: while showing Van Gogh's The Night Café (1888), Bragg quotes Vincent as having said he sees the café as a "place one can ruin oneself, run mad or commit a crime." Bacon then defends the "nightlife," playing right into the hands of his host. Later in the piece, the cameras follow Bacon on an evening tour of his favorite haunts, which include seedy London bars and casinos. Once the artist is thoroughly snoggered, Bragg closes in for the kill, striking far below the belt.

The most interesting, enlightening segment is the tour of Bacon's dark, cramped studio, encrusted with decades of paint, where he shares a small sampling of his reference photo collection. Images of people deformed by disease, wrestlers and bullfighters grappling, and humans caught in the contortions of motion (Muybridge) begin to illuminate his "muse." Here, the dialogue between the two men is at its least adversarial and most insightful.

But all too soon, Bragg whisks his victim away to a café for more talk over red wine. When asked to comment on some negative adjectives used to describe his paintings, Bacon manages to reply, "If you read the newspapers, if you look at television, if you know what's going on in the world, what could I do that competes with the horrors going on?" and sufficiently deflects his inquisitor, as one imagines he has done, similarly, hundreds of times throughout his long career.

Bacon's iconography relies on grotesque and deformed figures, often captured writhing in pain or terror, set in stark, surrealistic surroundings. Unsettling to be sure, but there is something important to face in these images: mortality, torture, and suffering, all the stuff of life we hope to avoid even in death, but it's there. What compels this artist to paint these images? Even after this viewing, I don't know. But I will continue to be haunted by them, and perhaps in some terrible hour, I will understand.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is one of the best transfers in Image's artists' series. The image is fairly sharp and extremely clean, with little apparent noise - especially important when presenting the paintings themselves. Blacks are black, though a bit grainy, but overall, this is a good presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital monaural track is a little hissy in areas, most noticeably when it picks up projector noise during the slide show. Suitable to the subject.

Audio Transfer Grade: C- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Nine chapter stops, that's it. A slide show of the featured work or an essay on the artist's career would have been welcome.

One cannot help noticing that the cover design features one of Bacon's most "harmless" images - a painting after van Gogh - which is in no way representative of the artist's body of work.

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

"I believe in deeply ordered chaos." - Francis Bacon

In this film, a carefully orchestrated chaos occurs, as the host appears to undermine his subject. However, this is an opportunity to spend time with the opinionated and enigmatic painter and delve into his inside-out vision of the human condition; as ever, I will take these treasures any way I can.

debi lee mandel 2001-04-19