If cinema is itself art, then what better medium to really explore the lives of some of the greatest artists of our time? With cinematographers using their palette of light and shadow, and screenwriters drawing entire worlds with their fine-tipped words, they work together to depict these master painters, as they bestow upon the world some of the most important examples of skill and craftsmanship in history.
Writer-director Mike Leigh is the latest cinematic artist to tackle a biographical tale of a great master, with Mr. Turner heading for theatres soon (October 31st 2014 in the UK, December 19th in the US). Exploring the life and times of Joseph Mallord William Turner – an especially prolific English romantic landscape painter working in the 1800s – the film premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where cinematographer Dick Pope won a special jury prize and lead actor Timothy Spall won Best Actor. Often referred to as “the painter of light,” Turner was regarded as something of a controversial and radical figure amidst the artistic community of his day, and Leigh’s film works to capture that fiery, revolutionary spirit.
Leigh is, himself, a somewhat radical filmmaker – known to confront controversial social issues in his work and making films in a relatively unconventional way. He is known to rely heavily on extended preparatory periods of improvisation, rather than scripts. With films such as Naked, Secrets And Lies, and Vera Drake among those populating his resume, his reputation is of an artist that seeks to document life within its grounded reality, as opposed to manufacturing realms of fantasy. This being the case, his take on the character of J. M. W. Turner should prove to be a fascinating thing – Turner having created works regarded as almost abstract, imbued with an atmosphere bordering on tactile.
Lead actor Timothy Spall is one of a number of actors that regularly collaborate with Leigh on film – a group that includes Lesley Manville (also in Mr. Turner), Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins, Ruth Sheen and David Thewlis. Indeed, the determination of this filmmaker to ‘find the film’ through exploration of theme and plot along with his cast leads to a signature style – in much the same way as Turner himself had. It perhaps takes an artist to truly understand the mind and motivation of another, which is arguably why films about such creative souls make for deeply enthralling and compelling viewing.
Featuring projects that focus on some of the most influential artists in history – across continents and hundreds of years – we celebrate the upcoming release of Mr. Turner with seven of the best films about artists.