‘The sun is God.’ These are the alleged last words of the painter JMW Turner before he died, a summation of his life’s work. It sounds pagan, I know, but I believe it contains a truth about a divinely created universe, that there is a spirit moving through all created things, in Turner’s case that spirit being the light of the sun.
This thought is prompted by viewing Mike Leigh’s fine, no magnificent, Mr Turner. These last words form an affecting climax to his study of human mortality, and indeed human vanity (it made me think of ‘Ecclesiastes’), set in the context of his vivid portrait of mid-Victorian Britain. I thought also of Mahler: ‘A symphony should contain the whole world.’ In this case, a film.
I’m working on an essay linking Turner to the American independent film-maker, Stan Brakhage, chief citizen of planet Brakhage. Turner, he felt, was a kindred spirit.
See also www.timcawkwell.co.uk