Review of Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence (2017)

Moving picture, 80 minutes

Seen in 2019.

I saw a 53-minute version on SVT, not the full 80-minute version.

The artist’s career from the 1940s up to his death.

An interesting case study in the cultural establishment’s paradoxes. Bacon infamously flirted with figurative painting at a time when photography had steered the establishment away from representation and into abstraction. Bacon was quite bad precisely at representation: He was bad at drawing, having to work from photographs of his subjects, who were a parade of his friends and lovers. Instead of damning him further, his lack of technical skill at the craft was perceived as redeeming, apparently because the craft was taboo. The establishment revelled in his scandals and kept throwing money at him, which he then gambled away. The documentary is not opinionated but it’s quite clear on all of this, only occasionally veering into ostensibly profound interpretations of the man’s work.

Throughout the course of Bacon’s long career, there were hundreds of illustrators and SFF artists like H. R. Giger, Ian Miller and John Blanche who evoked similar feelings, drawing distorted and monstrous figures with broader appeal. They had superior technical skills, were generally better with money and didn’t get involved in quite so many scandals. Bacon was probably a welcome influence on them and he was certainly a trailblazer, but the (shortened) documentary says nothing about this, not showing why Bacon should be the more recognized, or in what sense his art is fine.

moving picture non-fiction