A film of Lust, Passion and controversy
Some time ago, Valery Danko asked me if I would make a film about the life of female painters. At first I thought it would have to be a documentary, but somehow that just wouldn’t do. Who would want to see the technique or the story of a female painter, simply told? No, we needed to go one further, a documentary-drama perhaps? One particular 17th century artist was the first woman to make a living from painting professionally: Artemisia Gentileschi, who was considered in her own time one of the finest painters of all time.
Then I realised that to accomplish such a film would be technically difficult. Switching back and forward from re-enactments to presentation, or just do what Michael Palin had already done, in “The Quest for Artemisia Gentileschi” (2015) or Marco Visalberghi: “Artemisia Undaunted” (2011) with interviews from various art historians.
There have also been some films made about her life, particularly focusing on the connection between her rape by artist and her tutor Agostino Tassi. The controversial film Artemisia (1997) directed by Agnès Merlet has been heavily criticised. The major criticism was that it simply portrayed the story of the rape incorrectly. The major criticism was from a Feminist perspective, where the individual is portrayed incorrectly as accepting it. This film is also quite long and made a long time ago, when historians were less knowledgeable about the 17th century culture of Rome.
There is also another documentary drama fiction called “The Trial of Artemisia Gentileschi” (2011) written and directed by Paolo Bussagli. This stuck very closely to the trial, and was supposed to be the most accurate documentary about the case.
Despite all these films and documentaries, none of them really capture the essence of the 17th century people involved. The mindsets and beliefs of people change through time. We should know this because people in history lived in tightly-knit communities, where honour, respect, position, status and integrity mattered; or where it was more fluid, there was still a central belief system, derived partially from religion and culture.
One thus cannot attribute the individualistic beliefs of the 21st century materialism to people who saw themselves as a soul that inhabited a body – which made it immutable – rather than just another animal, whose body and mind are one. Thus individual matters were less important.
Nor did they view rape as that important compared with what such a scandal might do to their family honour within their community and business dealings, which often included the business of procuring a good financially useful marriage.
The stories above are also too much to take in. The complexity of the way the story is told is a problem. Complexity whilst useful in some subjects, can make others rather dull to watch, or often confusing. The story of the relationship between Artemisia and her tutor and rapist Agostino Tassi, and her father, is extremely complicated. We need to make it easier for an audience to understand the story without making the story dull or complicated.
We are thus researching if this film is possible, whether we can make it so that both the lies of Tassi and the truth of Artemisia can be told in a way that highlights their own beliefs and attitudes at the time! For we must understand the past in a new way, rather than just present our own 21st century attitudes on an age that had no concept of our peculiar obsession with individual rights or needs, especially when applied to women.
We would also like to make a short film, rather than a documentary or documentary-drama, which have been already done many times! We’ll try to correct the errors of previous views, and make the film highly entertaining.
Now what we need is your views. We’ve created a short survey. Please fill it in if you can.