Cast & Crew
Joe De Santis
Michelangelo Buonarroti is born in Caprese in the hills near Florence, Italy on 6 Mar 1475. After his birth, he is sent to the family farm in Tuscany and reared by a stonecutter, who works with marble excavated from the nearby hillsides. The powerful Medici family, headed by Lorenzo, makes Florence the premiere city of Renaissance Europe. The rival Pazzi family, together with friends in the Papal court, plots to destroy Lorenzo and his brother Guiliano. One day, after Mass at the cathedral, Guiliano is killed by Pazzi assassins, but Lorenzo is spared after he seeks sanctuary in the church. Later, Lorenzo smashes the Pazzi conspiracy, and once firmly in power, Lorenzo surrounds himself with the most gifted men of the time. This is the city to which Michelangelo is brought by his father. When it becomes clear that Michelangelo is more interested in art than in education, he is apprenticed to the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio, who teaches him the art of fresco painting. Michelangelo also studies the work of painters Giotto and Massacio and learns how to portray natural movement and weight in space. His nose is broken during a fight with a fellow apprentice. Eventually, Michelangelo is invited to study at Lorenzo's academy of sculpture. His work attracts Lorenzo's attention, and the young artist is taken into the Medici household. At seventeen, Michelangelo completes the forceful sculpture "The Battle of the Centaurs." After Lorenzo dies, Michelangelo flees to Bologna, but when his sculpture of an angel rouses the jealousy of local sculptors, he goes to Rome. At this time, the city is rediscovering its classical past, and this trend is reflected in "The Bacchus," the first work Michelangelo does in Rome. "The Bacchus" adds to the constructs of Renaissance realism the pagan ideal of man rooted in nature. In Florence, at the convent of San Marco, the monk Girolamo Savonarola attacks paganism and calls for reform. Books, paintings, jewels and other symbols of worldly pleasures are burned in his Bonfire of the Vanities. When Savonarola is excommunicated by the Pope, his followers turn against him, and he is sentenced to torture and death. Meanwhile, in Rome, Michelangelo completes the "Pietà" for St. Peter's Basilica. Now that Florence is at peace, Michelangelo returns there. The Cathedral owns a flawed block of marble, nineteen feet high, and Michelangelo decides to sculpt it. Four years later, he presents the completed "David." As thanks, the city awards him a house and studio. He creates more sculptures, including the Bargello "Madonna" for the Bank of Pitti, as well as paintings. Later, Pope Julius summons Michelangelo to the Vatican to create a monument for his tomb. At this time, an ancient statue, the "Laocoon," is discovered in the ruins of the palace of Titus, and becomes Michelangelo's inspiration for the sculpture the "Dying Slave," which he makes for Julius' tomb. When Michelangelo's enemies talk Julius into abandoning the project, Michelangelo leaves the city in anger. Julius sends armed couriers after the artist, but Michelangelo refuses to return, and instead, goes to Florence. Julius continues to demand Michelangelo's return, and finally, the artist capitulates. When he arrives, Julius asks him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo believes that the medium of painting is inferior to the medium of sculpture and refuses, but is forced to take on the project. After four years, the 10,000 square-foot-ceiling is covered with depictions of Biblical tales. Along the side, sibyls and prophets are portrayed. After Julius dies, Giovanni, Lorenzo's son, is made Pope Leo X. Julius' heirs insist that Michelangelo finish his tomb. He creates sculptures of four slaves, the symbols of man's suffering, and uses Julius' likeness for a sculpture of Moses. In 1518, Leo X enters Florence and makes Michelangelo's family nobility. He then commissions a tomb to glorify the Medici dead. For this, Michelangelo creates the sculptures "Dawn," "Twilight," "Night" and "Day," as well as statues of Guiliano and Lorenzo and a Madonna and child. Michelangelo then designs the Laurentian Library, which houses the collections belonging to the Medici. When religious reform sweeps through Rome, Pope Clement VII is imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo, and his ally, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, launches an attack on Florence. During the fighting, the "David" is broken. Michelangelo is then commissioned a general in charge of fortifications. Later, Pope Paul III heads a reform movement, and Michelangelo returns to the Sistine Chapel to paint the "Last Judgment." After finishing, an exhausted Michelangelo collapses, and the Strazzi family takes him to their estate at Tivoli where he recovers. Again, he returns to Rome and continues to work. He reconstructs the capital square, the Capitoline, and places a statue of Marcus Aurelius in the center. When Michelangelo is seventy-five, the Pope asks him to redesign St. Peter's Basilica. Michelangelo makes a working model of the great dome. Even though his health has failed, Michelangelo makes a second "Pietà," which depicts Christ's descent from the cross. He uses his own face as the model for Nicodemus. He dies in 1564, but in his own words: "To escape death, I attempt to bind my soul to my work."
Onscreen credits acknowledge that this film was "adapted from the Curt Oertel film Michaelangelo: The Life of a Titan." A February 1, 1950 Variety article noted that the Oertel picture was filmed in Rome and Florence in 1938 by the Swiss producer and shown in Germany by the Nazi government. A 95 minute print of the film was discovered by the U.S. Army in France and the rights were purchased by Robert Flaherty, Robert Snyder and Ralph Alswang. According to the Variety article, Snyder and director Richard Lyford recut and reassembled the film under Flaherty's supervision and added a music track and narration by Fredric March, as well as off-screen voices and other sound effects. Lyford's credit reads "Directed and edited by." At one point, the film was distributed by United Artists, but according to a September 20, 1950 Variety article, Flaherty, Snyder and Alswang withdrew the film from United Artists, claiming that the distributor owed them money. Although the film had a copyright statement, no copyright records could be found. This film won the 1950 Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary.