For the filming of the new art-heist movie, “Trance”, which centers around the theft, during auction, of Goya’s 1798 masterpiece, “Witches in the Air” director Danny Boyle could hardly make use of the actual work, hanging in Madrid’s Prado Museum. So he turned to artist Charlie Cobb to create a high quality forgery that, by his careful study of the original, and his use of scarce, historically accurate lead based pigments, could withstand the scrutiny of the close-up camera work. And Cobb didn’t paint just one – three separate replicas were used in the filming: one featured in the pivotal auction scene; one a sort of stunt-double, for the action-packed sequence depicting its being cut from its frame, and one as an “understudy” to wait in the wings in case of an emergency.
For works in the film of other artists (Van Gogh, Delacroix), whose characteristic styles of brushstroke were so crucial to make them credible, Cobb forged copies too. But the emphasis of the film on this particular work by Goya – known mostly for his unflinching depictions of the harsh realities of real people – might be a sly attempt to borrow more than the clout of fame: for a plot revolving around questions of memory, identity and suspension of belief, the painting’s smokey colors, ethereal light, haunting atmosphere and unfathomable subject matter are perhaps just the features the filmmakers hope to convey – admittedly a tough feat. If they were successful, their two-hour work might just hold a candle to the timeless prop.
Opened April 8 in limited release.