The word “auteur” is often used as a descriptive for the men and women who hang around film sets saying things like “action,” “cut,” “try it a little bigger maybe,” and “someone get me a Coke Zero.” It was coined by the French film enthusiasts who wrote for the magazine Cahiers Du Cinéma as a way to purposefully add pretentiousness to the concept of filmmaking and empower directors to personalize their movies. And it worked. It helped usher in the French New Wave in the ’50s and ’60s and later the American film renaissance of the ’70s. People started taking film directors very seriously. Very, very seriously.
Maybe too much very, very seriously. Mike Leavitt’s King Cuts woodworking project seems designed to knock that seriousness down a peg or two.
Working from single blocks of red cedar, the Seattle-based artist carves 18-inch statuettes of some of the greatest auteurs in the history of cinema combined with iconic images and characters from their films. The result is a series of humorous grotesques, satirical but clearly reverential. Alfred Hitchcock finds his head grafted onto the body of one of the murderous avians from The Birds. Martin Scorsese stands in a crucifix pose in boxing shorts brandishing the weapons of a deranged taxi-driving assassin. Quentin Tarantino stands there in… jeez, there’s a lot going on in that one. Anyway, these are homages to artists created by an artist who was inspired by their work.
“I love movies and I love art,” Leavitt expressed in a statement:
The magic overwhelms me. Moviemakers are consumed by their work, similar to the way my own work overtakes my life. Whether a block of wood, a scene ending or film reel edit, every cut takes conviction. Directors endure pain tending to the light of photography, the story’s tension, the limits of money and the sacrifices to their vision. Trust in that vision is so powerful that they relinquish their anatomy. That’s why I sculpted their bodies physically devoured by their work.
King Cuts is currently showing as a solo exhibition at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in Manhattan. Even if you’re not fortunate enough to make it over and see the dozen-plus cinematic totems in person, you should definitely tour the show online at the gallery’s website.