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The Invisible Truth: Painting & Film Chapter II: David Cronenberg

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Painting & Film Chapter II: David Cronenberg

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In my imagination, two images have been juxtaposed for a while, conjured by the flights of fickleness engineered by my memory. The one is of the creatures in David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, a stellar adaptation of a very difficult book to translate into film. Leaving issues of faithful adaptation aside, Naked Lunch stands on its own as a film. The level of difficulty in adapting it as a novel is perhaps only equalled by Finnegans Wake and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, the latter of which, if you ask me, would make a better television sit-com than a film. Back to the issue at hand. The other image is Max Ernst's painting Napoleon. I have long harboured the suspicion that the mugwamp creatures in Naked Lunch were modelled on Napoleon's weirdly amphibious face in Napoleon. Today, using my google-fu, I decided to test my suspicion, and I show you the results below.

 Mugwamp from Cronenberg's Naked Lunch

Max Ernst's painting: Napoleon

Result: The faces are similar with folds of skin and flattened nose and lips. Colour is roughly consistent. However, the mugwamp has a more beak-like mouth that is smaller. As well, the painting doesn't feature the variegation that the mugwamp has, and of course the eyes are monochrome. The Napoleon figure in the painting also has more pronounced eye sockets, although the size, shape, and beadiness are quite similar. Conclusion: The production designer or costume designer may have been inspired by Ernst's painting. Here is the description of mugwamps from Burroughs: 

Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addictive fluid through their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. (In fact all longevity agents have proved addicting in exact ratio to their effectiveness in prolonging life.)

Well, there you have it. I think the similarities between Cronenberg's mugwamp and Ernst's Napoleon are interesting. It is possible that the production designer or costume designer were more influenced by alien designs of science fiction movies and television series such as Star Trek. Regardless, the similarities for me are interesting enough. Incidentally, the mugwamps were originally Republican candidates who supported Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland because of the corruption of the Republican candidate, and thereafter came to mean a political deserter, or an overly sanctimonious politician who scorned party politics. 

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