Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Human Body is a World That Moves

No one said sacrificing a sunny, 63-degree January day to art would be easy. Apparently, neither is telling time.

When I bought my ticket to see "Camille Claudel" at the VMFA late in November, I couldn't have imagined today was going to deliver the kind of weather that would make me wish I could be outdoors. Just in the two miles to the museum, I saw scores of people walking, biking and basking in the sunshine, a couple of them even shedding layers as they went.

Sweetening the pot for missing the sun was that an artistic friend (and generous- she's the one who got me a VMFA membership for Christmas) was meeting me not only for the film, but for brunch first.

Lamenting the sunshine we'd be missing, we strolled through the sculpture garden, past dog walkers and yoga posers, as our first order of business since we knew the sun would be on its way down by the time we re-emerged.

Upstairs at Amuse, there wasn't a single seat available, so we detoured to the McGlothlin Collection for some fabulous eye candy, using our time to compare George Bellows' early impressionistic tendencies to his later more illustrative and less painterly style.

By the time we returned, not only had the bar cleared out, but a good part of the population of the tables as well. That should have been our first clue.

Setting ourselves up at the bar made for a fine perch to savor mussels with Surry sausage (me) and a Dutch pancake (her) and debate whether sweet or bitter should dominate in blood orange champagne cocktails.

Heading down to the Cheek Theater for the movie, there was a conspicuous absence of other theater-goers milling about. The ticket-takers looked at us askance. We'd gotten the time wrong and the movie had started half an hour earlier.

Yikes! What happened so far, we asked of them. "She made Rodin a foot and he's impressed," we were told. From there, we were on our own, but we're smart women. It helped that it was a three-hour film and we'd only missed a sixth of it.

Luckily, we hadn't missed the start of their intense romantic bond, where budding sculptor Camille and acknowledged master Rodin first realize they're hot for each other and begin kissing and groping as only artsy French types can. From there, the beautifully-shot movie unfolded with the story of two terrifically talented artists working and lusting together.

Together, that is, until Camille gets tired of sharing Rodin with his common-law wife and asks him to marry her. Poor Camille should have known better than to demand a commitment from Rodin a man who's not offering it.

Leaning over, my friend whispers to me, "Give me a talent, give me a craftsman, but a genius? No, thanks!" Her point was clear.

Gerard Depardieu, who could probably play any important male role in French history convincingly, summoned all the machismo and bravado of the self-promoting Rodin, who could love and appreciate a talented woman sculptor, as long as she only did what he wanted her to do (mainly carve hands and feet to help him make deadlines) and give up making her own art.

As my friend and I commiserated, it would have been simply awful to be a woman, much less a talented or sexually-inclined one, in the 19th century. So many restrictions and expectations at the expense of an independent self.

Isabel Adjani's performance as Camille was a marvel, as she played the young artist madly in love with her mentor, right through her breakdown once she leaves him after he refuses to marry her. Watching her descent into alcoholism and eventually mental illness was like watching a master class in acting.

During intermission, more than a few audience members opted out, a fact which amazed me since I was totally riveted by the story we were seeing.

Since I knew from the Rodin show that some of Camille's pieces were included, I couldn't wait to discover how all this was going to end. Ever the optimist, I felt sure Rodin would realize that she was the love of his life and they'd reunite to work and grope together until death parted them.

I'm such a sucker. Rodin's ego was too big, she was too damaged by losing him and her bitterness toward him and the artistic community made her such a crazy and delusional mess that her mother and brother had her committed to an insane asylum, where she lived for over 30 years and then died.

"You stole it all! My youth, my work, everything!" she screams at him in frustration.

There were so many moments when something unkind was said to Camille or she was faced with yet another awful incident and a collective groan would go up from the empathetic audience, a lot of them women.

Because women apparently will sacrifice a sunny day for high romantic tragedy couched in art. Now I feel compelled to revisit the Rodin show and ignore his work and ogle hers.

All the while thanking my lucky stars for being born late enough to have options...and not having fallen for a genius.

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