This wonderful DVD offers two complete Robert Snyder documentaries on the life and work of Michelangelo.
I opted to watch the black and white, 1950 Oscar-winning “The Titan: Story of Michelangelo” first, and am very happy I did so. It runs about an hour, and provides a fairly straightforward account of the artist’s life and work, while also exploring some of the regional artistic influences on young Michelangelo, and the political and religious discord that existed during the Renaissance. Narrated by Frederic March, it is highly melodramatic in places and features a dated, tinny soundtrack. The most striking and memorable footage is a recreation of David being moved through the streets of Florence (which plays very like a Spaghetti Western showdown). This original documentary is a terrific set-up for the main feature to follow… <
Michelangelo’s work almost-literally comes to life as you see it all again (and more) in living color in the 1989 film. Obviously, there is a lot of overlap with "Titan," but this film, "Self Portrait," is narrated in first-person, using Michelangelo’s letters, diaries and poetry to tell his story in a more intimate and insightful way than its 1950 predecessor. What a treat to hear Michelangelo’s own descriptions of his work! It changed the whole experience for me. His personal struggle to balance Christianity and Classicism mirrored the turbulence of the Renaissance and fueled his creativity; it may also strike a familiar note in modern times…
This film is much more complete than the first, both in the number of works shown and the exploration of the artist’s life. It is beautifully photographed and scored, and it offers closer-than-you-can-get-in-person views of Michelangelo’s sculptures and the pre-renovation Sistine ceiling and Last Judgment. No real people appear in either documentary–no narrators, curators, actors, townspeople or tourists are present to distract from the artwork or the environs. My one complaint about this is that we never get a good sense of scale as a result. Many of Michelangelo’s creations are monumental, and I’m not sure that truly comes across–especially on a TV screen.
Most fine art DVDs seem not to have any extra features, so the fact that this one does is a real bonus. The original 1950 documentary, "The Titan," is actually found under the Extras Menu and, as mentioned above, should be watched even before the main feature. In addition, there is a short but worthwhile interview with Robert Snyder in which he reveals where he found some of the original footage used in both films (I won’t spoil it for you). Finally, there are short excerpts from a series of other Snyder documentaries featuring creative icons of the mid-20th Century: Buckminster Fuller, Pablo Casals, Anais Nin, Claudio Arrau, Henry Miller and Willem de Kooning.
This is one of the most most engaging and worthwhile art DVDs I’ve seen so far. Anyone interested in Michelangelo, Rome, Florence, Renaissance history or the Vatican should enjoy this over and over again.