Paintings in Film | Queer Biopics | Andy Warhol

Queer Biopics

Films about Andy Warhol and David Hockney in particular, but also about Caravaggio, Salvador Dalí, Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Wojnarowicz. Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio can also be found in the Individual Directors sections and in the following article about “the emergence of the queer artist biopic” by David Bovey.

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Caravaggio, il pittore maledetto (Italy 1941 by Goffredo Alessadrini with Amadeo Nazzari).

A poster and some screen shots at

Caravaggio (UK 1986 by Derek Jarman with Nigel Terry)
Jarman’s film has by now been acknowledged as a major contribution to European art and auteur cinema. One of the many noteworthy aspects of Caravaggio is how the director not only shows the artist Caravaggio at work in his studio, but also integrates ten paintings into the filmic narrative, transfers their contents onto Caravaggio’s biography and transforms the following original paintings into tableaux vivants:

The Sick Bachus (1593)

Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1593-94)

Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1594-96)

The Musicians (1595-96)

Amor Vincit Omnia (1601-02)

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1601-02)

The Entombment of Christ (1602-03)

John the Baptist [John in the Wilderness] (1604)

Courtesy of BFI National Archive. Caravaggio is released on DVD by the BFI


Death of the Virgin (1606)

The Death of Marat (1793 by Jacques-Louis David)

In La conversione di un Cavallo, 23 Tableaux Vivants dalle opere di Caravaggio, actors from the Ludovica Rambelli Teatro recreate how Caravaggio created scenes to paint with live models just as Jarman did in his film. The music is the final section of Mozart’s Requiem, Lux aeterna:


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Chroma: A Book of Colour from 1994 is a typically idiosyncratic meditation by Jarman on the colour spectrum with implications for both film and painting.

Caravaggio (Italy TV mini-series 2007 by Angelo Longoni with Alession Boni). The original Italian version with Russian voice over at


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Caravaggio’s Shadow (Italy 2022 by Michele Placido with Riccardo Scarmarcio as Caravaggio and Lea Gavino as Artemisia Gentileschi)

Ripley (US eight-episode limited series Netflix 2024 written and directed by Steven Zaillian with Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley, Dakota Fanning as Marge Sherwood and Johnny Flynn as Dickie Greenleaf. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s crime novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, first published in 1955)

A total of ten paintings feature in the film, eight by Caravaggio plus two others. Much work has already been done on the role(s) painting(s) play(s) in the series; further comments and a bibliography will be added later.

Paintings by Caravaggio

The Seven Works of Mercy

The Inspiration/Calling/Martyrdom of Saint Matthew

David with the Head of Goliath

The Nativity with Saint Francis and Saint Lawrence

The Crucifixion of Saint Peter

The Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)

Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy

Sacrifice of Isaac

 Other Paintings

Augustus John Sir William Orpen (1900)

Guitar Player Pablo Picasso (1910)

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

Dali (Spain/Bulgaria/Italy 1991 by Antoni Ribas with Lorenzo Quinn)

Dali and his companion Gala arrive in New York in the 1940s. Dali’s life, early career and encounters with Picasso, Lorca, and Jean Cocteau among others are shown in flashbacks as are his early days in Spain collaborating with Bunuel: The premier of their Un chien andalou is briefly depicted along with the audience reaction. In an imagined sequence with refugees from the Spanish Civil War, the watches from 1931’s The Persistence of Memory appear as a sculpture literally drooping/hanging limply from the trees and flapping in the wind.

Little Ashes (UK/Spain 2008 by Paul Morrison with Robert Pattinson)

Madrid, 1922. With Madrid’s traditional long-held values coming under the new influences of Jazz, Freud and avantgarde art, the young Salvador Dalí enrolls at the university and after a short time meets the gay poet Federico García Lorca. The film’s central concern are Dalí’s own gay inclinations.

Midnight in Paris (US 2011 by Woody Allen with Adrien Brody)

Slipping back in time to a Jazz Age 1920’s Paris, a disillusioned screenplay writer gets to meet Dalí (ranting on about rhinoceroses!) and many other artists and writers of that time.

 Dali and I: The Surreal Story (US 2015 by Andrew Niccol with Al Pacino)

Based on the 2008 biography of the same name by former art dealer Stan Lauryssen, a close friend of both the painter and his wife Gala, the film covers a period of Dali’s life (1960-1980) when he had already created his major works and was indulging in some dubious business practices, particularly when it came to selling his own art!

Dalíland (US 2022 by Mary Harron with Ben Kingsley as Dalí and Barbara Sukowa as Gaya)

See also the New York Museum of Modern Art Dalí: Painting and Film exhibition:

Andy Warhol (1960-1987)

Basquiat (US 1996 by Julian Schnabel with David Bowie as Andy Warhol) see below.

I Shot Andy Warhol (UK/US1996 by Mary Harron with Jared Harris)

At 4.15pm on 3 June 1968, the founder and sole member of SCUM – Society for Cutting Up Men – Valerie Solanas fires three shots at Warhol and almost kills him. In flashbacks, the rest of the film analyzes Solanas’ childhood and casts light on her relationship with the transvestite Candy Darling, who brought her into contact with Wahrhol. At first Solanas seems to perfectly fit the New York Factory circle yet when Warhol refuses to produce her theatre play, her previous admiration turns to hate.

Notes on Andy’s Factory (US 1999 documentary video by Jonas Mekas)

Made for Guggenheim Museum’s travelling exhibition on Andy Warhol’s Factory Years, this location-shot video covers the Factory’s history and its various activities.

Factory Girl (US 2006 by George Hickenlooper with Guy Pearce)

The intoxicating Factory world as a symbol of the 60s. Art, drugs and free love shape the everyday life of the New York art scene where the newcomer Edie rises to become the face of counter culture, a real Factory Girl.

David Hockney (1937- )

A Bigger Splash (UK/Netherlands1974 semi-documentary by Jack Hazan)

This intimate look into the (emotional) world of David Hockney mixes fictional sequences with more documentary footage as it covers the three-years period from 1970-73 from London to New York and California. The way the film combines what appears to be the “naive simplicity of surface” with an “elaborate formality of organisation” puts us in mind of Hockney’s actual paintings (French, who also points out how the film takes over Hockney’s conceit of having a picture-within-a-picture in his paintings, thereby constructing a film “which successfully merges its own form and style with those of its subject.”) In addition, we see “members of Hockney’s circle together with the paintings he did of them.” By means of the recreation of tableaux vivants paintings are based on, characters are filmed “while sitting in the frozen poses they adopted for Hockney’s portrait” (Jacobs 57). The following is one example from among numerous sequences showing the painter working on his 1972 Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) the genesis of which is the common thread of the film:


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There have been a number of documentaries about Hockney:

Love’s Presentation (UK 1966 by James Scott)

Joiner Photographs (UK TV 1983 by Don Featherstone)

Hockney at the Tate (UK TV 1988 by Alan Benson)

Pleasures of the Eye (Germany 1997 by Gero von Böhm)

 Secret Knowledge (UK/US 2003 TV documentary by Randall Wright)

Waiting for Hockney (US 2008 documentary by Julie Checkoway)

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture (UK 2009 documentary by Bruno Wollheim)

David Hockney: The Art of Seeing – A Culture Show Special

(UK 2011/12 BBC 2 TV by Roger Parsons)

Hockney (UK/US 2014 TV by Randall Wright)

David Hockney at the Royal Academy of Arts: A Bigger Picture 2012 & 82 Portraits and One Still Life 2016 (2016 by Phil Grabsky. Part of Exhibition on Film)

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (UK 1998 by pop-promo producer, artist and one-time Derek Jarman collaborator John Maybury with Derick Jacobi and Daniel Crag as his lover George Dyer)

Based to a large extent on the authorized biography The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon (1994; at Bacon’s insistence not published in his lifetime) by the painter’s friend Daniel Negley Farson (1927-1997), an English broadcaster and (auto)biographer. Farson (Adrian Scarborough) can be seen in the film socializing with and interviewing Bacon on TV. The Bacon estate refused permission to allow any of his paintings to be used in the film, and Maybury compensates for this by using a film aesthetic which recalls particularly the nightmarish, debilitating quality of his art. See also Felleman’s analysis of the film where she talks in terms of “cinematic correlatives to the temporal and spatial deformations” of Bacon’s art and “cinematic equivalents for painterly attitudes.” At the same time she is well aware that “restoring the cinematic to Bacon´s language” entails the danger of amalgamating “it with narrative, threatening to turn Bacon´s figures into illustrations” and “his arresting moments of sensation into sensational stories” (Vacche, Museum without Walls? 226–28).

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Downtown 81 a.k.a New York Beat Movie (US 1981 by Edo Bertoglio with Jean-Michel Basquiat) postproduction 1999-2000 by Maripol rereleased in 2000 as Downtown 81

Basquiat (US 1996 by Julian Schnabel with Jeffrey Wright)

Of mixed Haitian and Puertorican descent, Basquiat’s rise from an unknown homeless graffitist to an internationally renowned artist is depicted along with the recreation of the 1980s New York art scene.


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Also note:

“Rapture” (US video of the song of the same name by Blondie directed by Fab 5 Freddy in 1981 featuring cameo by Jean-Michel Basquiat)

The Radiant Child (US documentary 2010 by Tamra Davis)

Based on the footage of an interview which the director and friend Tamra Davis conducted in 1985. Also includes interviews with Basquiat director Julian Schnabel, Bruno Bischofbrger and Thurston Moore.


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Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (US documentary 2017 by Sara Driver)


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Graffiti Films: A Selection

Wild Style (US 1983 by Charlie Ahearn)

Probably the very first Hip Hop film and shot entirely on location in the South Bronx and MTA subway yards. Features the NYC graffiti artist George “Lee” Quinones.

Style Wars (US 1983 by Tony Silver)

Documentary on Hip Hop culture emphasizing graffiti, breakdancing and New York street culture. Featuring the US artists Dondi, Seen and Iz the Whiz

Beat Street (US 1984 by Stan Lathan)

Thematizes the NYC hip hop culture of the early 1980s including breakdancing, DJing and graffiti.

Bomb the System (US 2002 by Adam Bhala Lough)

A group of graffiti artists decide to leave their mark on NYC.

Piece by Piece (US 2005 by Nic Hill)

20 years of graffiti history in San Francisco.

Wholetrain (Germany 2006 by Florian Gaag, former graffiti sprayer in 90s Munich)

Deal with the environment and ambience of graffiti (train sprayers).

Infamy (US 2006 by Doug Pray),

A day in the life of the US artists Saber, Toomer, Jase, Claw, Earsnot, and Enem.

Bomb it (2007)

The history of graffiti art from early prehistoric cave paintings to today’s global art movement.

Exit Through the Gift Shot: A Banksy Film (UK documentary 2010)

Thierry Gietta is a French immigrant shop keeper and film maker from LA obsessed with street art who tries to find Banksy, thereby turning into a street artist himself.

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992)

Postcards from America (US 1995 by Steve McLean inspired by the New York City painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz 1954-1992)

By the Dawn’s Early Light (Danish Film Workshop Production Company 1992 by Danish director Knud Vesterskov)

PS A Caravaggio/Caravaggio revival?

Postcards from London (UK 2018 by Steve McLean-again see Postcards from America)

Small-town boy Jim goes to London in search of fame, fortune, and happiness. After finding himself jobless and broke, Jim goes to The Raconteurs, high-class male escorts with encyclopedic knowledge, the only true representatives of gay art history, who specialise in cultured pre- and post-coital conversation about the arts with their all-male, all-gay clients. Jim joins them yet soon finds out he suffers from the Stendhal Syndrome and faints whenever he sees a masterpiece as well as imagining himself in tableau vivants of his favourite painter Caravaggio. The film quotes both Caravaggio’s original paintings and Derek Jarman’s reconstructions of them in his film of the same name.


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Five Men and a Caravaagio (Israel 2018 by Xiaoul Guo)

Inspired by Walter Benjamin’s 1935 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, this film essay follows the path of Caravaggio’s Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness as it is reproduced by an artisan in Dafan village near Shenzhen in southern China then sent to an Italian poet in Hackney, London as his fourtieth birthday present. His Australian philosopher friend and former amateur painter repaints the copy, and two other friends – an Eritrean-Ethiopean writer and a French photographer – develop an equally intense relationship with the painting.


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The seeds for all this were probably sown in Tarsem Singh’s 1991 video for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”:


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