Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Deal with the Devil

The story of Faust is one of my favorites.  
You know how it goes, Doc Faust, an alchemist, is in search of the ultimate truth and knowledge and for this he signs away his soul to the devil.  
It is an old German tale that spawned many versions.  


Christopher Marlowe, 
a contemporary of Shakespeare, wrote Doctor Faustus, in which the  protagonist signs his soul away (in blood) to the devil's representative, Mephistopheles. 
 Of course it all ends grimly...as one would expect...as was Marlowe's end, who actually died curiously...murdered...just before he was to be arrested of heresy.  Stabbed in the eye.  I have heard other accounts where his head was backward when the found him.  
Very Linda Blair.

 A few hundred years later Goethe spent his life writing his Faust, which actually has a happy ending...this doesn't happen very often in this sort of tale.
   The opera by Gounod is based on this version and it is probably from here that we get our stereotypical devil representation. 
Pointy beard, pointy eybrows, widows peak, red suit.
Here's a version that Rembrandt did of the Faust tale.  
Notice how the alchemical symbols have subtle bat wings and smoke emulating from them.


Meeting the Devil at the Crossroads
One urban legend that I find interesting is that early blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to play the guitar the way he did.  As the story goes he wasn't all that great of a musician and then he leaves town for a few months and suddenly he is phenomenal. Maybe he just took some lessons....or maybe he just took some lessons from the DEVIL! 
As he sings in "Me and the Devil Blues":


Early this mornin'
when you knocked upon my door
Early this mornin', ooh
when you knocked upon my door
And I said, "Hello, Satan," 
I believe it's time to go."


It's said that he went down the the "crossroads" where he met Lucifer who hooked him up...for a small fee.  It is here in Clarksdale, Mississippi where highway 61 and highway 49 meet, where the deal was allegedly done.

F.W. Murnau's Faust
A very cool Faust movie...especially if you're into silent films, is by F.W. Murnau, the guy who did the original Nosferatu (one of my personal favs). 
 Everyone knows the Nosferatu shadow scene but check out this image from Faust:
  The devil lurking over the the town below.  Pretty nifty if you ask me.  


Movie Deals
Speaking of film, one of my favorite films involving an infernal pact is Angel Heart.  It is a Film Noire detective story.   Dark and shadowy....very nice cinematography.  Not to mention Robert DiNiro as the devil  Louis Cyphre.  
  
He is creepy in a very calm, self assured sort of way.   Of course there is the egg scene...one of the all time haunting scenes ever.


There are a ton of soul selling films out there.  Al Pacino in Devil's Advocate, Jack Nicholson in the Witches of Eastwick.   One of my favorites is a comedic intrepretation: The Devil and Daniel 
Webster.  Walter Huston plays devil a.k.a Mr. Scratch.
 Here, Mr. Scatch battles the famed Daniel Webster in a courtroom battle for the soul of a farmer...the jury...is a bit fixed...murderers and unsavory sorts as Benedict Arnold and Captain Kidd.


A movie I have yet to see, but really really want to is the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. 
 In this case a wager is made with the devil.    The reason I am very excited about this film is that the devil or Mr. Nick is played by one of my favorite musicians....Tom Waits...master of the Dark Caberet. 
 I can't imagine he is anything less than spectacular.  And I have to say...that is a guy who looks good in a hat.  Speaking of Tom Waits...he always seems to have Faustian themes running through his music.  His voice alone is something deliciously dark....oddly disturbing yet soothing.  In the 80's he teamed up with famed theater director Robert Johnson and renowned Beat writer/ notorious junkie William S. Burroughs.
They teamed up to make the Black Rider.
A play that is based on a German folktale about Wilhelm, a young file clerk, who falls in love with a huntsman's daughter.  
To win his love he must first prove his hunting skills to his lover's father...Wilhelm being a clerk has zero skills with a rifle.  That is...until Peg Leg (the Devil) offers him magic bullets that will always hit there mark...all the bullets except one, and that particular bullet is under Peg Leg's control... the deal is made.  The twist, of course, is that Peg Leg's bullet ends up hitting Wilhelm's beloved on there wedding day.  
 As the song goes:
And that's where old George found himself
Out there at the crossroads
Molding the Devil's bullets
Now a man figures it's his bullets, so it will
Hit what he wants to hit
But it don't always work that way
 You see, some bullets is special for a single aim
A certain stag, or a certain person
And no matter where you are, that's where the bullet will end up
And in the moment of aiming, the gun turns into a dowser's wand
And point where the bullet wants to go

Back to William S. Burroughs for a moment....in many ways this is an autobiographic story for him.  While living in Mexico City he accidentally killed his wife in a drunken game of William Tell, attempting to shoot a shot glass off her head.   
Needless to say he had his own devils to contend with.


My Personal Demons
So by now I'm sure you figured that this was leading up to something relating to what was going on in my studio.  Well...nothing major yet...but it all started with a silly little mask I was making as a class sample for my Mad Masks class.  This is the Mouth of Hell Mask.
Now this lead to some smaller little paintings/collages.  The following "Blue Devils" are 2.5" x 4.5"




Now I've really been enjoying these little paintings, but I have to admit after doing this post, I'm feeling like REALLY sinking my teeth into the Faustian theme.  I'm not  really sure what or how yet, but the wheels are churning...the devil is in the details. 

19 comments:

localworks said...

Wow, I think you are my assemblage hero.
A year ago, I can across your book by accident, and I felt as though all of my own visions fell into place. Thank you for being so authentic and true.
Heather Harvey

Tinsell and Whimsy said...

OH MY..........my most favorite subject.....so close to my Halloween heart....masterful, sheer genius interpretations on so many levels!

zoe said...

i love these! the mask is insane. amazing work, as always...and fascinating post, as well!

peggy gatto said...

The devil made me do it!
Devil in the red dress.
Devil or angel?
I know, "deviled ham"!
Love that mask!

Harnett-Hargrove said...

What a great meander ... and then ending with a few incredible works! -Jayne

ArtSnark said...

Why am I not surprised to find you are a fellow Faust fan.

Wonderful post & love the new pieces.

Ann Renee Lighter said...

Great post about Faust etc; and what a fabulous mask!!!!!
The little paintings are wonderful too.
It's always fun to see what you are working on!

Stephen du Toit said...

The magic bullets legend used for "The Black Rider" is also the source of the plot for Weber's famous opera, "Der Freischutz", the Gothc horror sensation of the early 19th century.

Liz-Anna said...

Intriguing work. Very interesting post.

Sid said...

I saw the Black Rider when I was in college and fell in love and to this day have been trying to remember the name! Thank you!

Amy Rozeboom said...

I'm forever in awe of your work!

phoebe said...

You are sooo amazing! I'm a big fan of your assemblage art. Wonderful, imformative and imspiring blog--thank you for sharing it!

burgundybelle said...

Could this be the Index to the next book? I've never gotten goosebumps from a blog before

Candace said...

Have seen all these movies... love Tom Waits and he is perfect as Mr. Nick, btw.
Just a great post ending with greater works, as I tend to go to the dark side, not unlike Paul Giamatti in "Sideways".
And there are THOSE SOCK MONKEYS...!!!
well done, Michael. Hope to see you in NC.
Candace in Athens.

Jane said...

Michael, thanks for the great images and narrative in this post. I saw it the other night and I was on my way to judge a theatre festival at which Dr. Faustus was being performed. Your post also sent me on a virtual tour of the Dr. Faustus story. Good thing...because what I saw yesterday would have made no sense at all! Bad production/bad cutting but at least I knew what it was supposed to be! Ciao

deborah said...

thanks for the new items i will need to view, listen to....

i wonder how many times it took to get an egg just right to peel that easily in the movie....

love the matchbooks, by the way...

winslow said...

Wonderful blog! As one who is creating her own board on "Monsters, Demons & Fabulou8s Beasts" on my "Mythopedia" group at AncientWorlds, I loved your Dr. Faustus & the Devil tour & your own Devil masks and miniatures. I'll link my visitors to your fun page, for sure!
Win Shea aka DIonysia

winshea said...

Wonderful blog! As one who is creating her own board on "Monsters, Demons & Fabulou8s Beasts" on my "Mythopedia" group at AncientWorlds, I loved your Dr. Faustus & the Devil tour & your own Devil masks and miniatures. I'll link my visitors to your fun page, for sure!
Win Shea aka DIonysias

winshea said...

Wonderful blog! As one who is creating her own board on "Monsters, Demons & Fabulou8s Beasts" on my "Mythopedia" group at AncientWorlds, I loved your Dr. Faustus & the Devil tour & your own Devil masks and miniatures. I'll link my visitors to your fun page, for sure!
Win Shea aka DIonysia