In Edgard G. Ulmer’s brilliant and beautiful film Bluebeard(1944), artist Gaston Morrell deals with the failure of finding pure beauty in his paintings by killing his muses. The Art of Fear on the artistic practice of a serial killer…
A spectacularly dark mixture of noir and horror, much like Ulmer’s previous film The Black Cat (1934), Bluebeard is a revenge story. John Carradine plays Gaston Morrell (aka “Bluebeard”) in one of his rare leading male roles, an artist so scarred by the revelation that his ultimate muse is a “loathsome creative” that he kills her. This woman, whom he had rescued and nursed back to health after an accident, was the source of what he believed to be his greatest achievement in painting. After her murder, Gaston becomes fundamentally broken. Unable to escape the pain she had inflicted, whomever else he painted turned into a representation of her…and so he killed them too. She continually haunted him, controlling his downward spiral in artistic practice, ability to love, and mental stability.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray – a young man’s debauchery and vice manifests in his portrait after his wish to remain young is mysteriously granted.
We’re starting offThe Art of Fearwith one of my personal favorites and one of the strongest examples of art in horror cinema, Albert Lewin’sThe Picture of Dorian Gray(1945). It’s based on Oscar Wilde’s delicious 1891 novel of the same name and, with some small variations, stays pretty true to the original narrative. On that note, I want to clarify that this discussion is on the 1945 film version so any deviations and changes from the literary language or subsequent remakes are not considered.
The story goes like this: Dorian Gray is a young man so distraught after realizing that his portrait, painted by friend Basil Hallward, would always exist in a beautiful youthful moment while he would eventually age and whither that he manages to magically transmit the residue from his ‘lust for life’ experiences onto this painting. Meaning that the painting would bare the brunt of these actions, turning ugly and old while Dorian remained the same. His decades-long reign of the 19th century’s version of ‘sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll’ (and murder) leads him down many regretful paths. He tortures himself by viewing each of the portrait’s new evil transformations but revels in his cheating of death. It’s only until a young woman believes in his goodness that he, rather forcibly, expels his history from the painting back onto himself and dies a hideous old man.