Saturday, January 10, 2009

In Voluptate Mors

So I'm walking down Haight St. one sunny afternoon in the summer of 2006, shootin' the shit with my buddy Eddie. This is our first time in San Francisco, so we're taking it all in, browsing the storefronts. We soon pass an art gallery, and I see an image that stops me in my tracks. "What the fuck is that?" I blurt out. I take a step closer and peer through the storefront glass, and this is what I see:

"That is the coolest poster I have ever seen," I say. "I must own it. It shall be the centerpiece of my home. I will have dinner parties, and we will sip martinis, gaze up at the framed masterpiece, and have passionate discussions aroused by the dichotomies and contradictions brought up in its powerful imagery." I quickly pull out a piece of scrap paper and write down the name of the work: In Voluptate Mors, by Salvador Dalí & Philippe Halsman, taken in 1951. Needless to say, after checking out the pricetag on the framed print, I pass on the purchase, promising to myself I will own it someday. Oh yes, it will be mine. Someday, Alice, Someday.

Needless to say, I have yet to find a worthy print of this masterwork within my price range. But lets examine this work for a moment, shall we? There is a lot going on here. Not much really needs to be said, as the image really speaks for itself, with the beautiful female image contorted into a grotesque grin of death. And the look on Dalí's face? Fear. Also, distance and aloofness, which make it more unsettling. I'll let you take from the piece what you will, but there is no denying it is a totally original work. I've never seen anything like it before.

Which is why I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find that Hollywood has gotten its grubby little hands on this piece and plagiarized it nice and good. The first use of this image I approve of, as it is actually very clever. It is more of an homage, as it is subtle. Here is the original Silence of the Lambs poster:
On its own it is a haunting image, very well executed and subtle in its menacing softness. The skull on the moth's back emphasizes this dichotomy of muted fear. But take a really close look at the skull, and there it is:

Brilliant. I can get behind this usage of the image. Thematically, it fits right in with the poster. Moths, as well as nude women, are both considered soft, delicate creatures. Here, they are both branded with death, contradicting themselves. I can dig that. Thumbs up for Silence of the Lambs.

It was a number of years before Hollywood decided to use usurp this image as a promotional tool again, and this time, the results were not as inspired, or as subtle. Apparently, the same can be said for the film itself, though I have not seen it. I'll let the poster speak for itself:

The Descent was released in 2006, and apparently it is a well-executed horror flick which balances gore with psychological terror (claustrophobia, etc.) But the poster is shit, just a total rip-off. To someone who has never seen the original, it probably is pretty cool, but it should be considered pure plagiarism. The obvious factor which ruins the imagery is that the girls are clothed, with hiking boots on. Also, the dark and light is inverted. Both of these changes destroy any meaningful imagery inherent in the original, leaving an empty shell of an image. The best response this poster is capable of getting is a, "hey, that's a cool poster!" But alas, nothing more.

Hopefully, if anyone else decides to plagiarize this original masterpiece, they will have the good sense to respect it as art, and do it tastefully.

Until then, I will be sitting in my armchair, legs crossed with pipe and bathrobe, gazing quizzically up at my gold-framed artist's proof of In Voluptate Mors, contemplating the fragile, beautiful mess that is the human condition.

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