Bernini’s MEDUSA at the Legion of Honor, and Thoughts on Ridley Scott’s ALIEN

So many exhibits, so little time!

It seems like forever that self’s been wanting to go see Bernini’s Medusa, which has been on loan to the Legion of Honor from Rome’s Musei Capitolini (and is leaving shortly!).  Yet another legacy from the wonderful John Buchanan, who put in the pipeline so many great exhibits at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Leafing through the museum’s Fall 2011 magazine, self sees, in close-up, a picture of this magnificent sculpture.

How curious:  last night, self and the husband watched “Alien,” and this time around (only her nth viewing of this classic), self was particularly struck by the tight close-ups of Ripley’s face when she is in the space pod, escaping from the Nostromo.  There’s a lot of shaky cam work (Ridley Scott must have been among the first to use this technique), but the focus is entirely on Ripley’s face.

There are so many ways Scott could have chosen to portray that moment.  He could have shown the engines thrusting, or the pod moving through space.  He could have shown Ripley in action, busily pressing buttons or what not.  But no.  In that scene, he showed only Sigourney Weaver’s face, her open mouth, her closed eyes, her projection of pain and exhaustion (everything shaking horribly, and the image becoming very blurred at times).  And looking at the picture of the Medusa in the Fine Arts Museums magazine, it is something of the same expression!

This is from the museum magazine:

Her hair is turning into writhing snakes which, according to Ovid, was a punishment from Minerva for having had an affair with Neptune, god of the sea.  The punishment also made Medusa an instrument of death by turning anyone who looked upon her to stone . . .   Bernini’s depiction does not describe the incident but rather the agony of Medusa’s initial dramatic transformation.  Her face is contorted with pain and anxiety and her mouth is open as if crying out.

What is remarkable about Bernini’s interpretation of this ancient mythological creature is that it conveys passion, emotion, and the humanity of the moment, rather than the monstrous and horrific aspects of Medusa treated by artists and sculptors hitherto.

Self wishes she could “capture” an image from somewhere.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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