Artists carry their work over to the big screen

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

I'm on my way to becoming a film buff. It happened unexpectedly. When the video store I use to frequent went out of business, I signed up for Netflix. Since I can now download movies on the Internet and since there are innumerable movies to be downloaded, I have fallen down the rabbit-hole to couch-potato land.

In one weekend I watched "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," "The Battleship Potemkin," and an entire season of "Reno 911." My tastes have become diverse. From The Brothers Grimm to the brothers Marx to the brothers Cohen, I've watched them all.

Of course, there is a big difference between a film and a movie. There are countless would-be auteurs in film schools across the country, but I've never heard of anyone majoring in the movies. To put it in simpler terms, "Citizen Kane" is a film; "2 Fast 2 Furious" is a movie.

Film has become high art. Pick up any art magazine and you will probably find as many articles on film as articles on painting and sculpture. This melding of art forms baffles some and irritates others. However, practitioners of more "traditional" art have always been interested in experimenting with film. In 1928, Salvador Dali and director Luis Bunuel collaborated on a film titled "Un Chien Andalou" (An Andalusian Dog). It is also available on Netflix. I suggest watching this film, "Eraserhead" and "Teletubbies" back to back and see if you make it through with your sanity intact.

Artists really started making art about the movies in the 1960s. Artist Andy Warhol was fascinated with stars like Marilyn Monroe and delved into film making as well. The PBS "American Masters" series has produced a documentary about Warhol that is a good introduction to his films. Warhol was one of a number of painters and sculptors known as Pop artists because they made art inspired by popular culture. Pop artist influenced later generations of artists with their own film fixations.

One artist of this era was Arsen Roje. Roje was a Croatian painter who made artwork about the movies as well as for the movies. His most famous work was used on the poster for the 1970 film "M*A*S*H." The iconic image of a hand flashing a peace sign with sexy legs, donning an army helmet and high heels, was Roje's invention.

Roje was captivated by film, specifically "film noir" of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Film noir refers to dark, seedy crime dramas featuring hard-boiled detectives and psychotic criminals. Movies like "The Maltese Falcon," "Double Indemnity" and "Chinatown" are film noir classics. The 2005 Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez animated film "Sin City" is a contemporary homage to the genre.

Roje grew up in Eastern Europe, mired in the aftermath of World War II. He described his childhood home as a corrupt world, without culture or compassion, hidden beneath a veneer of civilization. He became fascinated with film noir, and what he referred to as the "ladies and gentlemen look" of these films. The image of well-dressed, civilized men and women engaging in brutal and desperate acts struck a chord with Roje.

The Albany Museum of Art has one of Roje's film noir paintings, titled "The Scream." It was painted in 1985 and features a scene of a daring robbery. In the painting, a masked gunman fires toward an unseen enemy as a woman screams in terror in the background.

Roje's paintings were copied directly from film stills. Unfortunately, the film that "The Scream" is taken from goes unidentified. The only part of the painting that could identify the film is the screaming actress in the background.

Visitors to the Museum have suggested that the actress is Shelley Winters or Tippi Hedren. It had crossed my mind that I could research this matter by watching every film noir movie ever made, but I might go blind in the process, so this mystery goes unsolved.

You can see Arsen Roje's painting, "The Scream," on display at the Albany Museum of Art until Nov. 5. See if you can identify the film or actress. The AMA is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is always free.

Arts & Artists columnist Nick Nelson is executive director of the Albany Museum of Art, 311 Meadowlark Drive. His column is a monthly feature in SouthView.