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Love Is The Devil - Blu-Ray release

Wednesday 2 December 2015, by Alice Nicolov

The BFI has just re-released ‘Love is the Devil’ on Blu-Ray. First released in 1998, this is a film portraying the destructive relationship between Francis Bacon and his muse and lover, George Dyer. The film culminates in Dyer’s suicide on the eve of one of Bacon’s triumphs, an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971.

Just as Dyer drops seemingly from nowhere into Francis Bacon’s chaotic London studio, so the audience of ‘Love Is The Devil’ is flung head-first into Bacon’s tumultuous life. Set in late 60’s and early 70’s Soho, the film is visually stunning. The placement of every prop is perfect. The colours are rich - bottle greens, crimson reds, oak browns. The constant switching between different lenses as we see elements of Bacon’s life through his own eyes – blurred vision, mirror images, magnifying lenses - helps the audience to understand how Bacon saw the world in a way quite unlike ‘normal’ people. He saw it through colour and movement, placement and reflections.

Furthermore, the performances of both Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig as Francis Bacon and George Dyer respectively are compelling. Jacobi, from the outset, gives us the lascivious, cruel, selfish artist, while Craig as Dyer, the rough diamond so beloved of the wealthy classes of the period, plays the drowning man to perfection. Bacon as the protagonist destroying the very thing he loves and admires and the authenticity of Dyer, whom he uses as a muse, is tainted by Bacon himself. Dyer’s authenticity is lost, the life sucked out of him to feed the maw of Bacon’s own art. The audience is also given a startling insight into Bacon’s Soho with its codes, jokes, secret language and private clubs.

If we take the ‘Love Is The Devil’ on a basic level of a story of two lovers, one destroyed by the other then it is a powerful and moving film, thanks to the performances of Jacobi and Craig. Unfortunately, the simple story of a man being being taken out of his natural surroundings, used and eventually destroyed does not work in this instance.

The film attempts to focus on Bacon’s private life and his relationship with Dyer whilst trying, somehow, to weave Bacon’s art into his personal life as a separate entity, something apart or additional to him and to his relationship with Dyer. In fact, Dyer was an essential part of an important development in Bacon’s oeuvre and this fact is somehow lost on the audience.

The film presupposes a prior knowledge of Bacon’s art and personal background and without this, it ends up as merely a love story gone wrong. Bacon’s work is referenced throughout the film – the distorted images, his revelries at the Colony Room, his studio and the presence of other artists such as David Hockney. Indeed, it is only near the end that George is referred to as Francis’ muse. Bacon’s art embodied him and so to have his personal life and his work running parallel rather than to see all of his actions stemming from his art short-changes Bacon. In order to understand the destruction wreaked by Bacon, you must understand his work.

It leaves anyone who is not familiar with Bacon’s life and work wondering who the film was actually for – a wider audience with no understanding of Bacon’s art or the art world only? While the audience can guess at this, it then has to tolerate Jacobi delivering to camera Bacon’s own complex musings on his inner torment in order to explain this. There is too much telling and not enough showing of Bacon’s need to consume the life and energy of others to feed his own genius.

‘Love Is The Devil’ is a film that isn’t sure what it is or who it is for. Jacobi and Craig provide mesmerising performances as Bacon the monster with a brilliant line in camp banter and his beautiful, simple lover. The awful nature of their relationship is difficult to watch as Bacon gradually robs George of his identity. On the other hand, Bacon was assuredly a genius and this attempt to explore its darker side misses the full horror, except perhaps in the last images recalling Bacon’s painting of George, in his final tragic moments set in a blood-red frame. As for Bacon, however sordid his private life was, however much inner torment he suffered, his genius has always shone through all that, and the film somehow just manages to miss this fact. If however you are looking for ninety minutes of sheer visual beauty and a powerful screenplay, it is not to be missed.

Dir. John Maybury, 1998

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