Image, “Sacred Poets”, and Substance

This past weekend, my wife and I watched Local Color, a movie presented as a true-to- life story of a summer in the early life of artist John Talia, when he was mentored by the Russian-born impressionist artist Nikoli Seroff – except that it’s not… exactly.  It took a while to track down the story behind the story, and it turns out that “John Talia” is actually George Gallo, the director of the movie, who did begin as an art student, but not of “Seroff,” but of the Lithuanian-born impressionist George Cherepov.  The use of the name Seroff was also confusing, because there was also a Viktor Seroff who was a scholar of the relationship between impressionism in art and in music.  Like “Talia,” director Gallo believes in representational art, and like the fictionalized “Talia,” after stints in Hollywood as a director, he was recognized as good enough to have his artwork featured in well-known New York City galleries.

The movie was shot on a literal shoestring, with most of the actors doing it for love and little else.  It never got wide distribution and received very mixed reviews, ranging from five stars downward.  While I enjoyed and appreciated it, in some ways the discovery that it was “fictionalized” bothered me far more than any short-comings it may have had, although I didn’t find many.  On the one hand, I can see why Gallo may have wanted to fictionalize the names, particularly his own, but by doing so, in essence, what could have been, and should have been, a tribute to Cherepov was lost in the process of creating an “image” of sorts.

I tend to be disturbed by the entire “image-making” process anyway, because the process of image-making obscures, if not totally distorts, the facts behind the “image.”  Certainly, such image-making is hardly new to human society and culture, although the power of modern technology makes it far, far easier.  Still, even in American culture, the images have run rampant over the truth, and in the process, often make heroes out of one man while ignoring the greater accomplishments of another in the same situation.  In “A Sacred Poet,” an article published more than thirty years ago in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov noted that, because of the popular poem, written in 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, most people believe that Paul Revere was the hero who warned the America colonists of the imminent British attack on Concord.  While that warning did indeed result in a colonial victory, it wasn’t delivered by Revere at all, because he was caught by a British patrol, but by Dr. Samuel Prescott.  Yet Longfellow’s poem about the “ride of Paul Revere” created a lasting image of Revere as the heroic rider who warned the Americans, and that image has effectively trumped history for more than a century.

Every American presidential campaign is an exercise in image-making, and generally, the more successful the campaign, the more distorted the image… and the greater the potential for loss of popular and political support when facts to the contrary eventually leak out and become widely-known.

Perhaps George Cherepov was even less likeable than “Nikoli Seroff,” and George Gallo didn’t want to misrepresent the real artist. Or perhaps… who knows?  But it still bothers me, I have to say.

7 thoughts on “Image, “Sacred Poets”, and Substance”

  1. Iron Sparrow says:

    It was shot on a literal shoestring? That’s incredible!

    1. A figurative literal shoestring… $2.5 million.

  2. Sid Bledsoe says:

    The character portrayed by Stahl as the artist Seroff bears nothing in common with the real life artist George Cherepov. Mr. Cherepov never uttered a curse word, did not drink alcohol, never mentioned George Gallo’s name to friends, preceded his wife in death not vice versa as in the movie, could go on. The idea that this character was Cherepov needs to be rectified for it is wrong and unkind to his life, family, and legacy.

  3. Anna Roberts says:

    I saw the Local Color a few days ago and I was very disappointed. One of my friends told me it was a good movie but it was pretty boring actually.

  4. Diane says:

    I thought it delightful. And representative art.

  5. Bev Barnes says:

    I enjoyed the film, i am an artist so was very interested in the painting techniques depicted. The actors were very good, wish for more like this representing life itself.

  6. I loved the movie. I’ve been a painter for many years, then poet, and now writing and while, yes, I’m disappointed and it bothers me too that this is a fiction very loosely based on real life I did enjoy the talk about art in a way that movies never get to. I’ve lived in NYC quite a while and yearning to live in a rural area now but don’t see how to make the move nor know where to go. That scenery would get me back to painting. Now that I know that Serof was a depiction and yet far from a true likeness of George Cherepov it annoys me further that the film yet again portrays the artist as alcoholic, bad tempered, and using such language. It’s a stereotype that does not serve the arts or artists only creating the drama that American film is addicted to, nevermind that it is often true. Still I loved the film and will watch it again. Thank you for posting the info behind the film.

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