This is a review of the new BFI release of John Maybury's Love is the Devil – Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (to give it its full title), which was previously released on DVD in the UK by Artificial Eye in March 2006. I've covered the film in some detail in that review, so if you are new to the film then click here to read it.
Watching this new BFI package of Love Is The Devil I felt like I was visiting an old friend – I had not seen the film for a long time but we soon got on as well as ever. A good piece of cinema loses nothing in repeat viewings, but a great film like this one gets better with each watch. As I have already provided a review for the film I will persist no further in commenting directly on the movie and concentrate attention to the new DVD extras provided in this edition. But first...
This is clearly a different transfer from the one found on the Artificial Eye disc, not so much for any quality shift, but for the framing and brightness/contrast balance. Where the Artitificial Eye disc was approximately 1.78:1, the new BFI transfer is 1.66:1, very slightly cropped at the sides from the first release. Like the earlier disc it is anamorphically enhanced, but the BFI transfer is slightly windowboxed within the anamorphic frame to prevent picture loss through TV overscan. The transfer here is not as bright as on the Artificial Eye release, which is actually a good thing (see the earlier review for why), but in other respects matches it all the way, retaining the contrast difference between daylight exteriors and more washed-out interior scenes, which appears to have been deliberate and reflects how the film looked in the cinema.
The orginal stereo track has been retained and that's no bad thing, with clarity, range and stereo separation all very impressive.
Subtitles for the hard of hearing have been included for both the feature and the commentary track.
The excellent newly recorded commentary with director/writer John Maybury and star of the film Sir Derek Jacobi is the highlight of this new set of features. They speak informatively of many aspects of production, from prop details to fascinating technical explanations of shot set-ups and how Maybury and his crew achieved some of the arresting mise en scene. Jacobi has less to say than Maybury, but contributes some information about how he transformed himself physically and mentally into the character of Francis Bacon and how well he worked with co-star Daniel Craig. Many of the troupe of famous extras are also pointed out, a lot of whom consist of the 1990's Young British Artists group, for example Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and the recently late Angus Fairhurst. The celebrated Gary Hume is also notable with a cameo in a delightfully impolite scene.
Maybury interestingly seems genuinely re-inspired by viewing his first feature film, and says on more than one occasion "I must be this brave again" after his recent more conventional work in Hollywood. Possibly most intriguing of all is the revelation disclosed by Maybury that the end (and beginning) of the film is semi-autobiographical, as his own lover overdosed in the same way as Craig's character George in the final climax.
The interview with producers (19:53) Ben Gibson and Chiara Menage offers an insight into the specialist film industry and workings of the BFI, detailing how the project got off the ground and problems encountered along the way, including the prevention of the use of Francis Bacon's work by his estate.
The Colony – A Documentary Preview (16:26) is a short documentary about the Colony Room Club that has provided artists with 'a living room with a bar' since Bacon's day. Somewhat cheesy and romanticised, this film does little to portray the Colony as anything more than a sordid hole, which may well be what it is. This feature confuses me as it is entitled 'The Colony, Documentary Feature, A Preview' possibly giving the impression it is merely a preview of an upcoming feature length film, yet I have seen or heard nothing of this movie. Or maybe I am just a misinterpreting fool!
The Fully illustrated booklet containing essays and notes is a wonderful addition to the set, a packed 24 pages with a collection of insightful essays from respected art and film critics, most notably Christopher Frayling's opening piece detailing previous artist biopics and the Arts Council dilemma of whether to fund the project. There are also biographies of the director of the film and its two main actors. It contains some nice production photographs as well and a short article about the photographer for the film Jorge Leon.
What we have here with this release is putting right the emptiness of the Artificial Eye version. It is still not an astronomically packed set, but one that certainly explores crucial areas of both the film's development and its production. I would urge any fan to buy this edition regardless of if you own the previous one.
[Just one thing about the packaging that I couldn't let pass – I notice that the rise in popularity of a certain actor has seen the cover face of Derek Jacobi disappear in favour of that of Daniel Craig. No real complaints here – if it helps to get the film seen... – Slarek]