Love is the Devil

Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon

Derek Jacobi as Bacon

Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon is a 1998 film made for television by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It was written and directed by John Maybury and stars Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig.

A biography of Anglo-Irish painter Francis Bacon (Jacobi), it concentrates on his strained relationship with George Dyer (Craig), a small time thief. The film draws heavily on the biography of Bacon, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon by Daniel Farson.

The year is 1971 and controversial British artist Francis Bacon is welcomed as the "greatest living painter" by officials and the press at the Grand Palais in Paris. As the ceremony takes place, George Dyer (Daniel Craig), Bacon’s model and lover of seven years, takes a cocktail of pills and alcohol in their hotel room. Slumping into blackness, Dyer recalls the fateful day in 1964 when he attempts to burgle Bacon’s house, but meets Bacon instead. From then on his life takes on an entirely different course. A powerful and dangerous relationship develops between the flamboyant artist and the man who becomes his lover and the model for some of his most intense and celebrated paintings. SBS

Daniel Craig as Dyer

The powerfully complex relationship between the flamboyant artist and the man who became his lover and muse (for some of his most intense and celebrated paintings), explores the territory where art, love and sex dangerously collide. Cannes Festival 1998

Maybury’s biopic tells the story of the troubled relationship between painter Francis Bacon and his East End lover George Dyer. An impressive and disturbing look at the internal life of an artist. Indie

This British biographical drama probes the life of painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992), critically acclaimed as the outstanding British painter of the latter half of the 20th Century. This unsympathetic portrait of Bacon begins when George Dyer, a small-time criminal from working-class East End environs, drops through a skylight to rob Bacon's studio--and is ordered into bed by Bacon. The two become a familiar couple at Bacon's hangout, the Colony Room in Soho. Bacon's sexual interests lean toward S&M, but as the cruel Bacon loses interest in Dyer and begins to look elsewhere, the couple splits. Left to his own devices, Dyer turns to drugs and alcohol--and a tragic suicide. Visual grotesqueries and a trancelike Ryuichi Sakamoto music score capture the essence of Bacon's work (although paintings by Bacon are not seen onscreen here). The film is told in the form of a flashback from Bacon's successful 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris to a period in the mid-'60s. Bacon biographer Daniel Farson (The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon) served as consultant on the film. Bhob Stewart

A short but suitably warped account of the love affair between the painter Francis Bacon (Derek Jacobi) and a small-time criminal named George Dyer, who was to model for some of Bacon's most convulsive works. The action, for what it's worth, starts in 1963 and ends in 1971, but the director, John Maybury, is only fitfully tempted by the demands of plot. He prefers to function in impressionistic bursts; we get a series of flickering, semi-linked scenes in which Bacon gambles, brushes his teeth with bleach, drinks with his appalling cronies, braces himself for masochistic sex, and even occasionally begins to paint-although, since the film was forbidden to show any authentic Bacons, he never gets very far. What rescues the enterprise from indulgence is, first, the audacity of Jacobi's performance, with its blend of caution and abandonment, and then Maybury's honorable attempt not so much to mimic the blurting violence of Bacon's imagery as to suggest the ways in which it was triggered by ordinary life. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

Photographs and clippings recalling those Bacon once kept in his South Kensington atelier.
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"Francis_Bacon_Inspiration_Sources_Muybury_Reconstruction" by Mariano Akerman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

A thief breaks through a skylight and lands in the middle of an artist's studio. His flashlight shows paints and brushes and canvas, and scattered thick on the floor pictures and newspaper photographs of carnage, accidents, executions. Peering at him from a slightly open door is the artist. "Not much of a burglar, are you?" the artist says. "Take your clothes off. Come to bed. Then you can have whatever you want."
The artist is Francis Bacon, one of the great painters of the Twentieth Century. The burglar is a working class, not-too-bright man 30 years younger than Bacon named George Dyer. Love Is the Devil tells of Bacon's relationship with Dyer from 1964 until Dyer commits suicide in 1971.
People probably react to this movie much the same way they react to Bacon's paintings and his life. Fascinated or repelled. Or both. Bacon's view of life is certainly there for all to see. He was an aggressive masochist where pleasure is pain and degradation is arousal. On the way to a boxing match with George, he says that "boxing is such an aperitif for sex. Like bull fighting, it unlocks the bowels of feeling." Bacon's circle of friends are brittle, obnoxious, clever queens, whether or not they are gay. They may accept George as Francis' plaything but not as a serious lover. Bacon is aroused and energized by the perversity of life. "We all have nightmares," he says to George unsympathetically one night. "They can't be as horrific as real life." His paintings are usually grotesque manipulations of the human body, where the body can look like an opened side of beef and a face can look like its been turned inside out. One critic called him the morbid poet of the world of evil. That seems to me to be superficial and ignorant. A person may not like Bacon's work, but his stuff is powerful and fascinating. C.O. DeRiemer

John Maybury provides viewers with a creative portrayal of the English painter Francis Bacon. Bacon was fascinated with violence both in his paintings and in his personal life. This is evident from the very first scene in which Bacon confronts George Dyer, the inept burglar who has fallen into his studio. Jacobi's chilling, yet mesmerizing, portrayal of Bacon is seen as Maybury closes in on Jacobi's face as he deliciously anticipates being bedded and dominated by this strange young man. And while the film's frank portrayal of lust and sexual dominance is clearly evident it also explores the life of a man who consciously chose the dark side of life. The performances of both Jacobi and Daniel Craig, as Dyer, are outstanding as is the inventive camera work of Maybury, who mimics the surreal images of Bacon's paintings. Jacobi's performance and voice-over narration help to illuminate this disturbing and fascinating man. Disturbing because he revelled in the violence and pain that most of us abhor and fascinating because Bacon was so unabashedly honest in his approach to life and his work. Brenda Griffey

One character in this film describes Francis Bacon's art as "portraitures of pain," also an apt description of this movie [...]. John Maybury, the director, obviously wants the viewer to be reminded of Bacon's paintings since there are many distorted and fragmented shots. Additionally, many of the artist's friends from the bar have very unsymetrical faces. Bacon makes himself up in front of three mirrors. There are several shots where the characters are so close to the camera so as to give a fish-eye effect. There is also a scene where victims of an auto accident are lying in positions similar to those of figures from Bacon's art. For the most part these "portraits of pain" work. H.F. Corbin

In the 1960s, British painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) surprises a burglar and invites him to share his bed. The burglar, a working class man named George Dyer, 30 years Bacon's junior, accepts. Bacon finds Dyer's amorality and innocence attractive, introducing him to his Soho pals. In their sex life, Dyer dominates, Bacon is the masochist. Dyer's bouts with depression, his drinking and pill popping, and his satanic nightmares strain the relationship, as does his pain with Bacon's casual infidelities. Bacon paints, talks with wit, and, as Dyer spins out of control, begins to find him tiresome. J. Hailey

Maybury's Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon is undoubtedly one of the twentieth century's most celebrated artists. His bleak, disturbing paintings display an intimate relationship with the darker side of life – a constant probing of the horrors of existence that most men and women shy away from. Bacon's brilliance lies in his ability to unflinchingly depict the most grotesque aspects of the human experience. In attempting to bring a segment of Bacon's life to the screen, writer/director John Maybury has adopted a cold, distant tone that effectively captures the painter's world-view while keeping the audience at arm's length. (Curiously, none of Bacon's paintings appear during Love Is the Devil since the artist's estate refused permission for them to be used.) However, despite brilliant performances by both lead actors, Love Is the Devil is paradoxically both intriguing and uninvolving. It's what I like to call an interesting failure.
Love Is the Devil transpires in London during the late-1960s and early-1970s. It tells of the unlikely seven-year affair between Bacon (Derek Jacobi) and a lower-class burglar named George Dyer (Daniel Craig), and, in its best moments, echoes Stephen Frears' brilliant Prick Up Your Ears. The overall story – about how the homosexual relationship with Bacon destroys Dyer – is relatively static, but there are several interesting subtexts, such as the connection between art, obsession, and cruelty, and the ability of love to manifest itself in such a damaging form. Unfortunately, there's not a great deal of new material in Love Is the Devil. We've seen this kind of story – about the sordid life of a great artist – many times in the past, so much of this movie seems to be covering familiar ground.
The first image presented to us is of Bacon smelling the pillow where a lover slept. It is perhaps the most evocative moment of the film. Soon, the artist is surprising Dyer in the act of breaking into his studio. Instead of summoning the police, Bacon orders Dyer to undress and join him in bed, promising that he can take anything he wants later. Once in Bacon's life, Dyer never leaves. For a while, the painter treats his new lover with respect and affection, but, eventually, he begins to tire of him, and the less Bacon needs him, the more desperate Dyer becomes, resorting to suicide attempts. The end is perhaps inevitable.
One of the film's greatest detriments could easily have been one of its greatest assets, if director John Maybury had exercised a little restraint. His visual style is distinctive, but he doesn't know the meaning of the word subtlety, and a provocative approach turns into overkill. Maybury is fond of using odd camera angles, quick cuts, and distorted views of the characters to emphasize how skewed Bacon's world is. Good idea; bad execution. In the end, it seems like Maybury is more interested in advertising his uniqueness and versatility as a director than in making a stirring movie. He's showing off, and it hurts the film.
The thing that almost saves Love Is the Devil is Derek Jacobi's performance. Jacobi, the only actor capable of challenging Ian McKellan as the best Shakespearean thespian of this generation, is so good as Bacon that it's frightening. Jacobi is mesmerizing, and, when he's on screen, it's difficult to turn away. Daniel Craig is frequently lost in Jacobi's shadow, but never fully eclipsed. Craig does a credible job portraying Dyer as he traverses the uncertain emotional territory from a tough burglar to a weak-willed, clinging parasite. Tilda Swinton has a supporting role as the proprietress of a drinking club that Bacon frequents.
Love Is the Devil is constructed almost like an impressionist painting: it's comprised of numerous vignettes that, when pieced together and viewed from a distance, represent a larger image. However, what works well on a canvas doesn't necessarily translate to the screen, and this method occasionally makes the movie seem disjointed. Combined with Maybury's stylistic flourishes, it's enough to prevent the viewer from ever connecting with either Dyer or Bacon. We watch them from a detached perspective, observing their actions with curiosity, but never identifying with them or being drawn into their world. Although, considering Bacon's nihilistic perspective of life ("I'm optimistic about nothing," he says more than once, and he means it), perhaps that, like the movie as a whole, isn't all bad. James Berardinelli

Three Studies for a Portrait of Francis Bacon

This film will insinuate itself into the images under your closed eyelids. Meat, blood, cuts, scars, wounds, assassinations, executions, dismemberments, car accidents, beatings, and burnings will all rush together in an explosion of pain, longing, and unsatisfied hungers. Homosexual sado-masochism, not gay love. The absolute evil of pure genius. A paint brush slashes the spirit as a razor, the body. The tormented torments; the masochist punishes the sadist. Flesh is set aflame with a cigarette, not a kiss. Francis Bacon is the one true artist of the postwar era. He understood that humanity had irrevocably crossed the barrier between reason and madness. This film casts us into the abyss of the collective unconscious where we may swim or be burned to a crisp. Hold your eyelids open with sharp orange toothpicks and suck on the bloody images. Watch the film five times and then seek out Bacon's work, at least in books, if not in museums.

Visual imagery. Only missing are Bacon's pics of wild animals, vaudeville actors and reproductions of Velázquez's paintings and Muybridge's photos.
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