Saturday, March 16, 2013

Actaeon again

Early in the Fall semester I made an OGCMA slide for Gary Moira's brilliant film short, "Metamorphosis." It is a 3-minute film made to promote the British National Gallery's Titian exhibit during the Olympiad hype last summer. If you remember the film, you'll want to watch it again. Here's the YouTube link.

Maybe you'll be happy merely to revisit the (left) vignette that captures the mythological usage in one frame. That's Anna Friel hosting a dinner. She never utters a word in the film. No one does. But Gary Moira, the director, has put Friel beneath Titian's "Diana and Actaeon" for dramatic effect. If you've seen the film, you'll know a) what she's eating and b) why we can see her over that empty chair in our foreground.

Titian's painting narratesgraphically the story that Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses. Actaeon stumbles upon Diana and her nymphs one day while hunting. The chilly stare with which Titian has Diana pierce Actaeon deserves close attention. Poor old Actaeon. He is soon torn apart by his own dogs.

In Gary Moira's short film, Friel plays the role of Diana with calculating coolness. When today's Actaeon sees her at the bath, he has actually sought her out. There is no mistake on his part. But his miscalculation is fatal. She seems (to me) not at all surprised that he has come to gaze. (below)

One reason why this film is on my mind is I'm bidding farewell this week to thinking about Downton Abbey for the next several months. The young man who plays the Actaeon role in this short film is unknown to me, except for a part he played in this last season, James.  Recognizing the actor immediately, I began hoping for Julian Fellowes to craft a great usage of Actaeon or build another  mythological usage, like his Perseus. He didn't.

Ed Speleers plays Actaeon in Moira's "Metamorphosis"

I'll close with the gaze of Moira's Actaeon (left).  As this handsome victim eyes his quarry, he has no idea that he's as good as toasted already. Great irony. So, watch the film.

Moira brashly turns the Actaeon story inside out. This man willfully steps into the trap laid for him, quite unlike Ovid's (ergo also Titian's) Actaeon. No surprise. No withdrawl, til it's way too late.

Ovid takes a moment at the end of his tale of Actaeon/Diana and says that the gods are still quibbling over whether the punishment meted upon poor Actaeon's head was too harsh. (Ovid Met. 3.251ff.) Did she justly defend her chastity against the mistaken intrusion of a wayward hunter? Did she overstep the line between justice and rage?

You might well think differently about the myth after you watch Moira's little film... or really consider Titian's painting.

Again, if you've seen Moira's film, you'll note that I show the images above in reverse order.


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