This summer looks like a season of moviegoing at the local museums. Last week the Modern opened a fascinating show devoted to the short films of William Kentridge, and this week the Kimbell counters with Butchers, Dragons, Gods & Skeletons, an exhibit of short films inspired by great works of art, including some from the Kimbell’s own collection.
The five films here are the creation of Philip Haas, the underappreciated British filmmaker who made the startling 1995 period drama Angels & Insects. They take a wide variety of sources for their inspiration including a fifth-century B.C. Greek vase (The Death of Pentheus), a 14th-century Chinese scroll painting (Arhat Taming the Dragon), and a 1739 Milanese ceiling painting by Giovanni Tiepolo (Apollo and the Continents). Visitors to the Kimbell will be more familiar with The Butcher’s Shop, based on Annibale Carracci’s painting dominated by giant cuts of meat, and Skeletons Warming Themselves, based on James Ensor’s ghoulish work depicting costumed skeletons around a fire, the last particularly timely given that Ensor is currently receiving major museum retrospectives in New York and Paris. The films not only bring these works to life using live human actors (including Julian Glover, Anna Walton from Hellboy II, and Rachael Stirling from British TV’s Tipping the Velvet), but also meditate on the relationship between artists and their subjects, and the power and limitations of art. Unusual and cool as a show like this is for the Kimbell, the free admission is even cooler and more unusual.