I really HATE movies about ARTISTS. “Basquiat”, “Basketball Diaries”… all CRAP. Filmmakers always want to show you how an artist “suffered” through life and overcame hardships to express themselves through their art. Directors usually make these kind of movies to make themselves look like artists.
HOWEVER, once in a while, someone gets it right. In this case, it’s John Maybury who wrote and directed “Love is the Devil”, subtitled, “Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon”. Sometimes called the most important artist of the latter half of the twentieth century, Bacon (Derek Jacobi) was known for painting dark and disturbing portraits of figures in extreme emotional states. The studies came from photos or from episodes in Bacon’s life. Guess what? We get to see some of those episodes.
The film covers the period of Bacon’s life from 1964 to ’71 as he receives a triumphant retrospectivee at the Grand Palais in Paris. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, his lover of seven years George Dyer (Daniel Craig), model of many of his greatest works, is having a pill and bourbon cocktail as a send-off to this mortal coil.
The rest of the film recounts their sordid affair, from the moment they met when George tried to break into Bacon’s house. While the film does present many real events, it does so in an impressionistic manner. It often seems both the art direction and the cinematography took their cues from Bacon’s art. The amazing thing is, while we occasionally see him paint, we never actually see Bacon’s art, just how it expresses itself in his life. This style is perfect as much of the film is from George’s point of view, as his sanity dissolves in a cocktail of drugs, alcohol and self-loathing. Working class George is never really able to fit into Bacon’s inner circle or the art world. Bacon seems intent upon playing out the role of tortured, unfeeling artist the art world has created for him. He can’t even publicly grieve for George as that would display a compassion absent from his image. At one point, Bacon is accused of putting more energy into his paintings of George than into their actual relationship. In the end we’re left to ponder the true price of art.