The Artist Who Did Not Want to Paint

In 1965, studio execs at 20th Century Fox probably thought that audiences were, shall we say, art-impaired. And if today’s audiences are anything like those 45 years ago, they were right. So after filming on THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY—Irving Stone’s story of Michelangelo, Pope Julius II, and the creation of the murals of the Sistine Chapel—was finished, a 12-minute documentary prologue was added detailing Michelangelo’s life and his many famous frescoes and sculptures.

Entitled “The Artist Who Did Not Want to Paint,” the segment was written and directed by Vincenzo Labella and shot by Piero Portalupi, neither of whom had anything to do with the feature film itself. Also missing from the creative team was the film’s composer, Alex North. Rather than doing the score for the documentary himself, North brought on his friend Jerry Goldsmith to compose the extended cue.

An eight-note brass theme captures the nobility and majesty of Michelangelo’s work. A dancing, trilling theme for flute and later violins brings a delicate lightness of touch to accompany the heavy stone creations. As the documentary moves into the more religious pieces, like the Moses and La Pieta, the music takes on a more somber tone. Goldsmith combines the earlier themes with a yearning violin variation on the earlier brass theme that seems to reach up higher and higher to heaven.

“The Artist Who Did Not Want to Paint” was still relatively early in Goldsmith’s career and the piece is an interesting entry in the composer’s canon. This may not be the later Goldsmith that so many film music fans adore. But you can still hear the seeds of the mature composer in the harmonic language and instrumentation. Thanks to YouTube’s increase of uploaded videos from 10 to 15 minutes, you can now watch the entire segment all in one sitting.

  1. While North’s wonderful gifts at creating aural spectacles to match the visual ones is excellently served up in THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY, it was Goldsmith’s masterful prologue that’s the highlight of this soundtrack for me. I think it’s bolder and just as dramatic as North’s music.
    I did get to see this in 70mm, Todd-AO when it premiered in ’65 – and the sound design was terrific. I still have the original program. Sadly, it was an incredible flop for Fox, and director Carol Reed was no David Lean, although he made up for this at the boxoffice the following year with his equally overblown, overrated musical of OLIVER!.

    1. I prefer North’s score to Jerry’s prologue, but that’s just me. Maybe because I find the doc to be such a snooze.

      OLIVER was actually ’68 and overblown, overrated it was. To think that it beat out THE LION IN WINTER, Zeffirelli’s ROMEO AND JULIET, and, hell, even FUNNY GIRL, makes my stomach churn.

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