5 Stars Out Of 5
Riveting performances by two cinematic greats
January 1, 2013
"The Agony and the Ecstasy," the very words uttered by Michelangelo lover Contessina de'Medici (portrayed by actress Diane Cilento), to him during her treatment of his exhaustion and malnurishment suffered while he labored ardently on the fresco designated to blanket the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, is a superb film highlighted by performances by Charlton Heston as Michelangelo "Buonarroti" and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II .
Taking place from about 1508-1513 in Florence and Rome, Italy, this epic film depicts the battle of strong wills between two great personalities of the Renaissance: renowned sculptor and reluctant painter Michelangelo (1475-1564) and the warrior-pope ("The Fearsome Pope," "The Warrior Pope") who virtually forced the artist to render his splendid painterly masterpiece across the entire ceiling of the chapel.
Already a dominant film actor by this picture's release in 1965, Heston masterfully personifies the brilliant and whimsical artist in a fashion truly reminiscent of how he depicted Moses in "The Ten Commandments" (1956). (The same believable, memorable depiction herein is burned into celluloid.) Harrison, also well-respected as a veteran screen actor by this time ("Ann of the Thousand Days," "My Fair Lady"), produces a similar impact with his performance of the strong-willed pope who, like Michelangelo, learns some humility during their mutual journey through their embattlement leading to the fresco masterpiece.
As with most major motion pictures, the producer(s) and director--in this case both Carol Reed--took some creative license with the film, at the very least characterizing Pope Julius II (1443-1513) as a bit more virtuous than he was (at least according to Reformation humanist Desiderious Erasmus). Julius II was a militaristic Catholic Church head who also had an illegitimate son, and he was the first pope to have fathered children before being elevated to the "Chair of St. Peter." The film--a 20th Century Fox production--was partially based on Irving Stone's biographical novel of the same title.
Another example of such creative license is the depiction of the artist painting from a horizontal position. "Contrary to popular view, Michelangelo did not lie down while painting. He drew a comic sketch (above) of himself at work to accompany a satiric sonnet he sent to a friend. It reads in part: 'I have already developed a goiter . . . that pushes my belly under my chin. My beard points to heaven . . . and my brush, continuously dripping onto my face turns it into a rich mosaic. . . . Behind, my skin is shriveled for too much bending, and I am stretched like a Syrian bow.'"
-- Cegur.com Master's Gallery: Michelangelo
The film would have benefitted from more background "mood" music (by Jerry Goldsmith and Alex North), but the script, direction, cinematography, costuming, and acting are superb. Hence, as a film, for a rating I give this motion picture 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.