Meet the man behind the man holding the camera

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US artist Edward Hopper is the secret weapon of many famous directors and cinematographers. (See my previous blog about this 20th Century hero of American Scene painting.) David Lynch, Todd Haynes, Aki Kaurismäki and Terrence Malick are just some of his disciples. They copy the imagery and style of the scenes that Hopper composed.

Here’s the evidence of his influence:

Exhibit A: Pennies from Heaven (Herbert Ross, 1981) and Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2003) directly draw on Hopper’s New York Movie (1939) (Below)

Left: Pennies from Heaven poster(1981), Middle: Far from Heaven (2003), Right: still from Far from Heaven (2003)

Exhibit B: Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert portrays women as being on the verge of hysteria and surrounded by industrial landscapes with vivid colours. These are iconic Hopper techniques.

Poster (left) and still (right) from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964)

Exhibit C: The 1982 Hollywood blockbuster, Blade Runner emits pure Hopper. In fact, Ridley Scott has labelled Hopper “A Great”, adding “I was constantly waving a reproduction of this painting (Nighthawks) under the noses of the production team to illustrate the look and mood I was after.” The still below looks like it could actually be a Hopper painting…the harsh light, the dreary colours, the sad look on lonely figures’ face.

Poster (left) and still (right) from Blade Runner (1982)

Hopper has had a two way, a give-and-take relationship, with film. It was the movies that gave him his inspiration, his style. He took ideas for how to compose his scenes, for colours and for subjects from his well-reported marathons in the 1930s and 1940s New York movie houses.

Robert Henri, Hopper’s artistic mentor, encouraged his students to go to cinemas to ‘observe the community at play.’ And Hopper took it seriously! He loved the movies. ‘When I don’t feel in the mood for painting,’ he said, ‘I go to the movies for a week or more. I go on a regular movie binge.’ He drew inspiration from what was on screen and from the spectators themselves.

His diaries say he watched these 1945 movies: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Portrait of Dorian Gray, Hotel Berlin. These were all dramas with pain and struggle as their themes.

In fact it was film director Fritz Lang, a refugee of Hitler’s Germany who arrived in Hollywood in 1937, who played a large part in influencing Hopper. He produced dark dramas in the style of German Expressionism. Hopper’s ‘Night Shadows’ looks like a storyboard sketch for a high angle shot from a Lang movie.

What influenced Hopper deeply were the movies shot on the backlots of Hollywood’s great studios in the Thirties and Forties. Hopper’s paintings were about cities, similar to the films from the Golden Era. Hopper even used the ‘movie theater’ as a scene for the 1939 painting New York Movie.

Looking at Hopper’s relationship with film has made me realise that arts join up. They keep feeding off one another. It’s like one big messy spider diagram.

Broken Bird
Nighthawks: An In Depth Look

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