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MICHELANGELO: SELF-PORTRAIT and THE TITAN: Story of Michelangelo
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MICHELANGELO:
Self-Portrait
a film by
Robert Snyder &
Michael Sonnabend

DVD includes

THE TITAN: STORY OF MICHELANGELO Academy Award Winner (1950) for Best
Documentary Feature

An interview with
Robert Snyder

Excerpts of films by Robert Snyder

Filmography and a printed essay on Robert Snyder

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The film, by Academy Award winner Robert Snyder, which has been shown in a limited number of engagements in art theatres and museums, and swept the nation for two-years on PBS, has garnered high praise from critics. In the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas wrote, "…as the camera caresses both marble and canvas alike, we hear Michelangelo's thoughts about his life and work. It evokes the very spirit of the man." The Philadelphia Inquirer called it a "…serious and sensuous portrait of Michelangelo." And in the Los Angeles Daily News, "…the timelessness and sheer beauty of its images make this film anexperience not to miss." Bonnie Churchill wrote in The Christian Science Monitor, "…like a shaft of sunlight in a dark room, the commentary explores the sculptor's thoughts and emotions," and "…a very personal insight into Michelangelo's work and life."

This sculpture, called the Deposition, is one of Michelangelo’s two last works, the other being the Rondanini Pieta. The standing figure holding the body of Christ is Joseph of Arimathea, commonly called Nicodemus, but scholars acknowledge it is a self-portrait. In this film, Snyder uses this work as the recurring image of Michelangelo.

Michelangelo wrote that he had carved Nicodemas in his own image. "Death has taken from me my last, my most intimate friend, Vittoria Colonna. Numb with grief, out of my mind for weeks, I would see no one...I have locked myself in the studio to carve another Pieta, in preparation for my own death. Nicodemus, who offered his own tomb to receive our Savior's body, is myself."
Snyder filming The Last Judgment
in the Sistine Chapel.

In 1951, an earlier film on the artist titled The Titan: Story of Michelangelo, was produced by Snyder in black & white, and received rave notices before going on to win an Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature. One critic, the late James Agee, described it as "…a new and exciting way to see some of the greatest work ever done."

In making the decision to produce another film on Michelangelo, Snyder explains that there had been nearly three decades of scholarship on the artist, as well as discoveries of works by the Master. The latter include the wall drawings in the Sotteraneo, his early wooden crucifix, and his late Rondanini Pieta sculpture, all of which are documented beautifully in the new production.

In fact, Michelangelo, Self-Portrait opens with a closeup of the Rondanini Pieta, which the Master began carving when he was 89 years old. The audience hears Michelangelo's words: "I am carving another Pieta; God grant I may finish it. How different from my first in St. Peter's a lifetime ago when I was just 21. Beauty was my idol then. Faith alone must guide me now, as I face the day of judgment."

The film, which was written by a long-time collaborator and friend of Snyder, New York gallery president Michael Sonnabend, explores the artist's life and and artistic evolution in his journey from a young Renaissance star, through his long spiritual crisis and finally to the saintly simplicity of his final years. Combining excerpts from Michelangelo's letters, poems and diaries with the rich visual images of his work photographed in full color. Some of the magnificent visuals include spectacular views of the Sistine Chapel, the Last Judgment (prior to the cleaning), the Pauline Chapel frescoes, and many other beautiful works by Michelangelo in both two and three dimensions. The grand visual images are accompanied by the austere strains of Renaissance composer Claudio Mondteverdi.

Screenwriter Michael Sonnabend (left) and producer-director Robert Snyder (right) in the tomb of Giulano de'Medici in Florence with the statues of Night and Day in the background
Snyder filming the statue of David in Florence, Italy.
Snyder and his cinematographer Umberto Galeassi had unprecedented access in six different countries to the works of art over the ten years that the film was in production. Snyder recalls, "Obtaining permission to film the St. Peter's Pieta was extremely difficult. You may recall that in 1972, a deranged visitor smashed the face of the Virgin. Since then, the Pieta has been protected with bullet-proof glass. No still or motion picture camera was permitted to go behind the partition. We negotiated with the Vatican officials for over a year before getting a special dispensation to work behind the glass which permitted us to photograph thoroughly and intimately - certainly the first and probably the last time such permission would be granted.
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