Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Agony and the Ecstacy (1965)

I love serendipity.

When I hit "randomise my queue" on Movieshack, it gave me unlikely duets of CDs. Two Vietnam war movies back to back, two true stories about journalists, and now two films set in the Vatican (The Body - see previous post - and this one).

And both movies had lavish shots of the beautiful, awe-inspiring architecture in Rome. Agony was pretty good, in my view, from a technical and overall story point of view.

But, like The Body, the writing let it down. The story was really good, and wisely chose to focus on a small part of the original work, Irving Stone's epic novel of the same name. But the dialogue was overwritten, almost to the point of being unintentionally funny.

An example... a messenger from the Pope comes to Michelangelo, who's lying on his back, painting the Sistine ceiling. He says, oh, wow, I get paid finally... no, no, it's not pay, it's a bill! I can't believe it's a bill, he hasn't paid me for the last six months, and here's a bill for the last two months' rent!!

Too much information. Too much verbal information anyway.

But the dynamics between Pope Julius and Michelangelo were good, the Pope endlessly needling the artist, the artist endlessly delaying his creation. But as some other critics have said, it kind of didn't move very far, for such a long movie.

Character arc: Pope Julius.
1. Arrogant SOB with a sense of entitlement, who doesn't pay his artists.
2. Wounded arrogant SOB, obsessed with this project almost as much as Michelangelo
3. Old, wise arrogant SOB, shrewder and realising how much this art means to him - it's more than decoration - and knowing how to manipulate/motivate artists.

Character arc: Michelangelo.
1. Intense outsider, struggling artist, confirmed sculptor.
2. Intensely reluctant painter, runaway.
3. Inspired visionary.
4. Struggling artist, intense outsider, painter.
5. Ill artist, almost giving up, persuaded by the threat of losing the commission.
6. Nascently emotionally-aware artist, realising there is a world outside himself, he can return the favour to the pope because he realises what the Pope did for him.

Michelangelo's journey is fairly compelling, but kind of understated. Yet the acting was anything but - this is Charlton Heston after all!

I did like the portrayal of the artist though, it had depth and reality. Particularly how Michelangelo didn't realise how much he could get away with, bursting in on the pope in highly strategic war meetings, even when he's about to go into battle.

  • Make the character arc compelling and dramatic, within the context of your genre (ie if it's an epic story like this purports to be, make the journey big and epic)
  • Try to tell a key event rather than a whole life (Agony chose this well, I think)
  • Every scene must mean something. The battle scenes in Agony meant virtually nothing to me, because we didn't know what the stakes were. They were annoying distractions.
IMDb link


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