BU Film School

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

FT 540 Reading: A Question of Attribution

Screenplay info
Written by: Alan Bennett (also play)
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0105204

Synopsis
Blunt and restorer are looking at an ex-Titian, which is called Titian and A Venetian Senator. The ex-Titian hasn't been cleaned. Blunt gives lecture on slides -- sang-froid of martyrdom.

Chubb conducts his own examination of Blunt, showing him photos for identification. He asks questions, wants to make sure Blunt isn't bored. Blunt says the talks keep him on his toes. They talk about art. Chubb wants to take the chronological approach. Blunt says art has no goal -- history of painting is not simply a progression towards photographic realism.

Restorer shows Blunt the ex-Titian, which has now been cleaned, showing there are not two figures but three. Puzzle -- who is the third man?

Chubb shows photos, asks questions. Blunt has surprisingly good memory for details. Blunt answers questions about another painting, The Allegory of Prudence, says it's a puzzle picture. Chubb misidenfities wolf as dog. "There's not a 'hang' of it." He says Chubb is using techniques of facile identification (from his job). "Appearances deceive. Art is seldom quite what it seems."

Phillips, a student, arrives. Blunt sends him for a suit. Colin, a footman, meets Blunt and Phillips at the palace. Blunt wants to remove the Triple Portrait for identification, replacing it with an Annunciation. Colin and Phillips spot the Queen (who's supposed to be opening a swimming pool), they hide. Blunt, on steps, doesn't notice until he gets down from stairs.

Queen and Blunt talk about many things: is there such a thing as art history? being on one's best behavior, one not at best. Queen likes facts -- asks about Poussin. Queen has no pleasure in acquisition. (Throughout, Queen points out objects that have been given to them.) Queen likes things to have a line around them. Portraits don't quite capture queen -- she doesn't want to be captured, not entirely. Copying photographs is cheating. Portraits supposed to show secret self -- Queen: "So we don't know whether you have a secret self." "Paintings make no claims, Ma'am ... it is we, the beholders, who make claims for them, attribute a picture to this artist or that." Queen -- context also matters (background, pedigree). Blunt thinks word fake is inappropriate. Queen spots Phillip, he comes out. Queen goes. Colin comes out. "What were you talking about?" "I was talking about art. I'm not sure that she was."

Blunt lecturing again at Courtald Institute. Compares Allegory of Prudence to Triple Portrait (formerly Titian and a Venetian Senator). Blunt posits that the third figure is Titian's son (also pictured in Allegory), revealed after cleaning. X-ray revealed 4th man. Rotating slide reveals 5th man. Blunt's warning -- paintings are not there to be solved.

Chubb warns Blunt that he will be named, attributed. Government promised immunity, but not anonymity. Chubb says evidence points to someone else behind them all. Blunt brings up example of Berenson, who'd posited a friend of Botticelli's (Amico di Sandro) then found proper attribution. Chubb counters with example in which painter for Mother and Child works did exist as hypothesized.

"A whole gallery of possibilities. The real Titian an Allegory of Prudence. The false one an Allegory of Supposition. It is never-ending."

My notes
-- based on stage play. very, very, very talky.
-- a lot left for reader/viewer to surmise.
-- parallels between art historian and security guy. Both looking for explanations, facts.
-- fake, or just something by another name?
-- British humor, specially for her Majesty.
-- moves fluidly between scenes.

FT 540 notes (from 06/03/03)
-- perspective, context changes how people see things.
-- attribution not only of paintings, but political matters.
-- good guys are now traitors. Major subject for black comedy. No official statement to be trusted.
-- characterizations ambiguous.
-- Alan Bennett member of undergrad satire troup at Oxford (Beyond the Fringe).

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