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From Quentin Tarantino to Stanley Kubrick: How paintings inspired 5 of cinema’s best shots

“Filmmakers are going to make films, just like painters are going to paint.” – Richard Linklater.

The filmmaker Jim Jarmusch once elucidated a director’s quest for inspiration, “Nothing is original,” he once told MovieMaker Magazine. “Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.” 

For many directors, it would seem that the visual spark comes from paintings where depth is key, and the lens is a brush. “Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul,” Jarmusch’s famous quote continues, “If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it.”

He concluded his eulogy of plagiarism transfigured into creative homage by quoting the legendry French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

Below, we’re looking at five times when directors have taken inspiration from classic works of art and transposed the depth of that stillness into a moving reality.

Take a look at five beautiful shots and film aesthetics that were lifted from a canvas of old.

5 classic movie shots inspired by paintings:

Mark Rothko inspired the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men

Roger Deakins, the man behind the cinematography on No Country for Old Men, once said: “The biggest challenge of any cinematographer is making the imagery fit together of a piece: that the whole film has a unity to it, and actually, that a shot doesn’t stand out.” 

For No Country for Old Men, the piece that the Coen Brothers provide to colour the whole of their movie was a Mark Rothko-Esque painting with muted earthy tones on the bottom and blue sky on top, flecked with red smears of blood, knocked up by the production designer Jess Gonchor. 

Gonchor told Dearest Cast & Crew in an interview: “I remember the colour palette I made for that: I knocked off a Rothko painting and had pretty much just the colours you would find in the West Texas desert. I put a splatter of blood to top it off. So it was a few shades of brown, a shade of rust, and shade of concrete, and then a spatter of blood.”

(Credit: Rothko / YouTube)

John Kacere inspired Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation

Anyone who has ever watched Lost in Translation has found themselves greeted by the welcome sight of Scarlett Johansson’s cotton-clad derriere and equally found themselves captivated beyond the more obvious gratuitous element of the sight. It is an opening scene of note and it sets the tone for the ‘more than meets the eye’ unspooling of life that follows.

This shot was directly inspired by John Kacere’s iconic 1973 painting ‘Jutta’. It is an image that couples innocence with inherent eroticism in Coppola’s defining naturalistic way, and weirdly, it is one of the most iconic opening scenes in cinema. 

(Credit: John Kacere/YouTube)

Marc Chagall inspired Jonathan Glazer in Sexy Beast

Amid the vitriol and spleen of cockney gangster’s in Sexy Beast is a scene of surrealist exultation in a myriad of ways. For a brief moment, Gal finds peace in the arms of another and this coracle of tranquillity amongst everything that rages around him is beautifully realised in a gentle floating scene. 

For this scene, Glazer was inspired by the 1918 Marc Chagall painting ‘Over the Town’. Although Glazer has never spoken about the painting’s connection to the scene, the pair share a visual and spiritual kinship that is unmistakable. 

(Credit: Marc Chagall/YouTube)

John Constable inspired Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon

Barry Lydon has often been heralded for the way in which Kubrick managed to capture England during a comparatively ancient period with painstaking perfection. What better way to go about it than get as close to a photograph from the era as you can?

Kubrick perfectly reproduces John Constable’s painting of Malvern Hall from 1809, and even the weather was on his side as it seems the clouds were in on the recreation act. Kubrick worked with cinematographer John Alcott and tirelessly trawled through the art of the era to craft the film’s perfect aesthetic. Hence, it is likely that many more artworks coloured the palette of the finished film. 

(Credit: John Constable/YouTube)

Thomas Gainsborough inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

A lot is made of Django’s fancy-pants outfits in Django Unchained, and whilst his sartorial independence is partly a way to express his emancipation from slavery, there is also a grander discourse when you consider the art that inspired it. 

The painting an outfit therein has a rich cinematic history of its own having been similarly depicted in F.W. Murnau’s Der Knabe in Blau (The Boy in Blue), 1919 and later in Nosferatu, which are both films firmly on Quentin ‘the quintessential film nerd’ Tarantino’s radar. 

As such the outfit is a nod to a history of defiant outsiders a cheeky in-joke to boot.

(Credit: Thomas Gainsborough/YouTube)

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