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In the 1960s, British painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) surprises a burglar and invites him to share his bed. The burglar, a working class man named George Dyer, 30 years Bacon's junior, accepts. Bacon finds Dyer's amorality and innocence attractive, introducing him to his Soho pals. In their sex life, Dyer dominates, Bacon is the masochist. Dyer's bouts with depression, his drinking and pill popping, and his satanic nightmares strain the relationship, as does his pain with Bacon's casual infidelities. Bacon paints, talks with wit, and, as Dyer spins out of control, begins to find him tiresome. Could Bacon care less? Written by
odd, awkward, imperfect without revelling in flaws...Bacon deserves better
Love is the Devil (1998)
Francis Bacon (along with Lucien Freud) is one of a handful of British painters of note in the last century. That's not very many. And he's inflated here beyond his very idiosyncratic and repetitive works. They're powerful paintings, no question, and filled with psychological drama as well as painterly angst. They come from a time when representative and expressive paintings was out of favor, and so he's a rebel, too.
But this isn't about Bacon the successful artist, and it doesn't address his work directly (the filmmakers couldn't get his cooperation so none of his work is shown). What it does do is show the man, as seen through actor Derek Jacobi, who plays a kind of deadpan and slightly boring character a little too well. We are, I think supposed to find the artist through his mentality, which is played out here by showing his social and sexual lives in all kinds of diversity.
But there is another goal to the movie, to me: creating an interesting contemporary world of artists and social renegades. That is, the art world of London (etc.) in roughly the 1970s or 80s. The filmmaker John Maybury is a close associate of Derek Jarman, who was an openly gay filmmaker known for personally quirky films that dealt with issues that mattered to him, including his odd and intriguing "Caravaggio." Maybury, unlike Jarman, has no history of great indie films, and this one is just structurally awkward, and in filmmaking terms it seems a little novice, whatever the good intentions.
So it might actually fail on several levels. One is the most damning--that it doesn't actually illuminate the paintings. I found the personal life and the heightened story distracting, even if it has a basis in truth (and is the driving line of the movie). It also doesn't quite work on the simple level of convincing acting, even though Jacobi looks enough like Bacon to make that fly, and his counterpart played by Daniel Craig is decent (we don't dare expect more from Craig, do we?). And then the movie wobbles visually, both with camera-work that is either clumsy or affected (or both) and with editing that seems clunky. That is, this is a movie almost "thrown together."
Which I'm sure it was not. Maybury is trying to mainstream his life (unlike Jarman, who enjoyed being an Indie star), and his collaborations with the likes of Keira Knightley are revealing for both (one as a way of going serious, the other for a way of going commercial).
I know there are those who accept and love a movie like this because of its flaws, which only enhance somehow it's integrity and its artistry. But that's only one way to look at it, and if you like offbeat movies that are also brilliant deep down, you might not find that here.
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