The Francis Bacon triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” sold for $142, 405, 000 at Christie’s New York on Tuesday, Nov. 12, breaking a record for an auctioned painting, easily beating last year’s auction sale of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” at $119 million. What is it with grotesqueries and marketability these days?
Bacon painted this work in 1969 at the height of his daily drinking bouts with his fellow artist and friendly competitor Freud among others at the exclusive Colony Room establishment in Soho, London. This period was also examined in John Maybury’s film Love Is The Devil (1998), which portrays the relationship between Bacon (played by Derek Jacobi) and his lover George Dyer (played by Daniel Craig), who would commit suicide in 1971.
Maybury, a friend and colleague of filmmaker Derek Jarman’s who had directed landmark music videos for Everything But The Girl and Sinead O’Connor, was criticized at the time for not delving deeply enough into the Bacon’s actual creative process, but he does convey the stylishly-graphic yet in-your-face social atmosphere surrounding the artist. Stylistically, the film has many interesting similarities to Dario Argento’s Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971), where a number of colorful characters semi-separately attempt to solve a series of murders in Rome.
The film features American stars such as Karl Malden (just pre-Streets of San Francisco) and James Franciscus (just post-Beneath the Planet of the Apes), as well as the garishly done-up international starlet Catherine Spaak. Ennio Morricone contributes one of his classic musical scores, combining aching melody with dissonance and funky backbeats. The composer was then also at the height of his powers, not too long after working with Argento (who wrote the screenplay) on Sergio Leone‘s Once Upon A Time In The West (1968).
Visually, this film is not as over the top as many of Argento’s later films, but the twisted stylism is nevertheless evident, from brown jellyfish wallpaper to doctored paparazzi-style death photos and a boxing ring-like rooftop club. Most notable in relation to Bacon is the portrayal of an exclusive and hip gay club, St. Peter’s, into which Franciscus’ reporter character has to delve in order to pick up crucial information from the enigmatic German Doctor Braun. Much bitchiness ensues, and death soon follows.
Cat… was a moderate success in Europe upon its release, although it was dismissed as trash in America. Of course, now Argento is considered on par with Hitchcock in the realm of horror. And this popularity, as well as of Bacon’s work, may be touched on in the film itself. Have we grown so soft in our cushy surroundings and circles that only horror can shake us to life, such that we will pay a princely sum for the experience?
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