March 16, 1991
THOSE RENAISSANCE MEN
RICHARD K. SHULL
Frame by frame, “A Season of Giants” is a visual feast, as though thousands of perfectly balanced paintings had been strung together in one monumental exhibition.
It’s a moving art show with landscapes and portraits, sculptures and scenes of daily life as well as the opulence of the Vatican in late 15th century Italy tumbling from the TV screen.
But the accompanying story will put you to sleep as it moves at glacial speed in covering 16 years of the Renaissance.
When Michelangelo begins pecking away at a boxcar-sized block of marble with mallet and chisel, you get the feeling you’re going to see every chip fall before his David emerges.
That’s the trouble with Italian productions.
“A Season of Giants” will have its first showing on cable’s TNT Sunday and Monday, 8 to 10 p.m., with each part immediately repeated each night from 10 to midnight.
Guiding hand, overall producer and co-writer of this miniseries is Vincenzo Labella, whose previous credits include “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Marco Polo.”
The four-hour film is populated with a first-rate international cast that labors much of the time under the burden of granite dialogue.
Mark Frankel stars as the glowering and often anti-social Michelangelo, who is consumed with his own visions.
John Glover has the most fun, portraying Leonardo da Vinci as a flaky genius, at least as interested in devising wings for manned flight as he is in painting the Mona Lisa.
Andrea Prodan bears a striking resemblance to the Raphael of Urbino he portrays.
And if Italian actress Ornella Muti looks familiar, it’s no wonder. She plays Onoria, the muse and mistress of Raphael, and she’s a dead ringer for the model in all those madonnas Raphael painted nearly 500 years ago.
F. Murray Abraham is a prime mover in the story as Pope Julius II, the “the warrior pope,” who waged wars to reclaim territory from the other city-states even as he undertook massive building projects that resulted in St. Peter’s Cathedral and its Sistine Chapel.
Steven Berkoff plays Savonarola, the fanatical Florentine cleric who led a movement against materialism, destroying priceless works of art and literature in what he called his “bonfires of the vanities.”
The story is straight-forward chronology of events, beginning in 1492 with the death of strongman “Lorenzo the Magnificent” di Medici (Ian Holm), patron of 17-year-old Michelangelo, already a sculptor of note.
Women are OK, but Michelangelo would rather caress a sexy block of Carrara marble.
“There is a figure in there, imprisoned in the block. Only a great sculptor will be able to find it, to set it free,” he rhapsodizes as he puts his brand on it.
The action grinds to a close in 1508 with Michelangelo knuckling under to pressure from the pope and reluctantly agreeing to paint the pope’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.
If the story gets too stuffy, turn down the sound, but “A Season of Giants” really is worth watching.