NEW YORK — Past the phalanx of shivering young publicity gals huddling to stay warm by the glow of their Samsung Tablets on a cold March evening, an elite cross-section of the art world and Hollywood were sipping wine, nibbling sushi and thinking about the Old Testament.
Paramount Pictures (and co-sponsor Samsung, who had eye-level screens all over the place) and filmmaker Darren Aronofsky joined forces for an unusual bit of marketing for the forthcoming (and increasingly controversial) big budget Bible epic “Noah.”
Aronofsky invited dozens of well-known artists, ranging from painters and sculptors to comic book illustrators, to submit work based on the topic of Noah and The Flood. Some of the work was on sale, some was art for art’s sake.
The film, which stars Russell Crowe, has left some evangelical Christians miffed due to its fantasy-like style. Censors in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have banned it, and a group is lobbying in Egypt to do the same. (Naturally, none of these people have actually seen the movie, but when has that stopped anyone from boycotting art?)
This mix of politics, art and Jewish celebrity (in addition to Aronofsky, the “Jewyorican” magician David Blaine and Zosia Mamet, “Girls”‘ Shoshanna Shapiro, were in the house) made for a fun albeit jam-packed night. As one entered the split-level gallery space, Aronofsky’s mission statement for “Fountains of the Deep: Visions of Noah and The Flood” was front and center.
“When I asked Russell Crowe to star in ‘Noah,’” it began, “I promised him one thing: I would never shoot him standing on the bow of a houseboat with two giraffes sticking up behind him.”
Despite a deep affection for G. Camelopardalis, Aronofsky, the director of such unusual films as “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Fountain,” “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan” makes a good point. The look of Bible stories is a worn cliche from a hundred different sources, yet the pre-diluvian era has much untapped potential.
Mr. Aronofsky and his ubiquitous scarf were mobbed by well-wishers, but I managed to yank him away for a (very) brief conversation, the transcript of which is below. Interspersed are a very small sampling of the artwork that was on display.
Have you read the story that there are some people in Egypt who want to censor the film?
Yeah, I know. A few countries are censoring it, but, it’s like… you know…
Is that good press, at the end of the day?
I don’t know.
In Islam they don’t really represent the Prophets in art. In Western culture we do all the time. So we knew it might be a problem when we first started this. But it’s sad, because I know people would get a lot out of the movie, but you have to respect what people think.
There are plenty of New Testament movies, but I can hardly think of any Old Testament stories, other than Dudley Moore in “Wholly Moses,” which I don’t think counts.
Why is this? These stories are so fantastic, in every sense of the word.
I’ve been saying this for ten years, since I first started pitching “Noah.” These are the greatest stories ever told. It’s been fifty years since Hollywood has taken our tools of filmmaking and applied it.
I mean, “The Bible,” by John Huston from 1966 is the only big one I can think of.
That’s the last one, and Noah, played by John Huston, was an old silly man with a goat behind him.
It’s not the greatest thing on his resume.
No, it’s not all that great. And it’s just one scene. Noah has never been attempted as a feature length story on film, and I always wondered why. Part of the reason is that it is only four chapters, so we had to expand it, but how we expanded it was by looking for clues in the text. And there are a lot of clues.
The first thing that happens after the Flood is Noah getting drunk and his son seeing him naked. And this is a whole character thing that we develop.
What was your directive to the artists in this exhibit?
One word: Noah. Don’t think about my movie. Don’t look at any paparazzi photos of Russell. Go back to the original text in Genesis and see how you are inspired.
So you did give these artists homework…
Yes. People have been doing religious art for thousands of years. There are endless paintings, drawings, mosaics, you name it, through many cultures. But many 21st century artists don’t go anywhere near that. So I thought it would be interesting to see what they’d come up after returning to the original text.
It’s an international cast of artists, from all religions all cultures from around the globe.
Also of different mediums.
I just got the artists that I wanted, and this meant different mediums.
Are there fine art influences in your films?
Always. I’m bad at reeling off the names. One person, Sam Masters, who has something in that back corner, he worked on the Nephilim – the “Watchers” in the movie.
Are you a collector?
A little bit. Not really. It’s too much responsibility. When you acquire a piece of art you are responsible, you need to take care of it like a child.
“Fountains of the Deep: Visions of Noah and the Flood” will run March 7-29 in a pop-up art space at 462 West Broadway.