THE LIGHTHOUSE

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOMAGE AND THEFT

THE LIGHTHOUSE – THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOMAGE AND THEFT

Part 1 – Eggers on your face

Goddamit, Robert Eggers, sit down – we need to talk.

Yes, your work on The Lighthouse was fantastic, and I have to admit, opening the door for me to Symbolists like Gustav Moreau and Jean Delville was a revelation. But you and I need to have a frank “sit backwards on the chair and rap” conversation. No, I’m not mad, Robert – I’m just disappointed.

We need to talk about the difference between homage and check-out-the-copper-wiring-on-this-house brand of theft. 


The Lighthouse The Wingless Homage versus Theft drink
Black turtlenecks on, dork, we’re doing movie stuff!

THE LIGHTHOUSE – THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOMAGE AND THEFT

Part 2 – You’re just making them Immortal

While laying low from Covid19 and being only mildly annoyed that my xfinity account suddenly won’t let me login (ironically, after providing a more secure email) – I perused Amazon’s criminally-underrated lineup and landed on The Lighthouse

And boom – I had my new rabbit-hole. The Lighthouse is an exceptionally lush film, shot on period-appropriate materials. The black and white (and fiercely lit) movie’s tone is somber at best, downright Eldritch at worst – supported by fantastic performances by Willam Dafoe and Robert Pattinson that turn an otherwise arthouse-y movie into an intimate and arresting stage play. 

Inset in the film’s fantastic production is a mood that is clearly being hit with accuracy and precision by every discipline… Eeeeexcept for the moments where the film flat-out wears its influences on its sleeve… and on the band of its underwear… and tattooed on its face. The inspiration isn’t obvious, it’s incandescent

The most egregious moment of theft in The Lighthouse – and the inspiration for this post – is a whole shot (for sketch) remake of the drawing Hypnos by Sascha Schneider. Take a look at the picture, the framing, the lighting, the posing.

Now, here is a direct scene from the movie. It’s subtle… reaaaaally subtle – but eagle-eyed viewers may notice IT’S A CARBON COPY. 

The Lighthouse Homage versus Theft The Wingless John Burnett Hypnos Sascha Schneider
Boo this man! Booooo!

The framing, the lighting, the subjects. Paltry microchanges notwithstanding… It’s just. The Damn. Drawing

Let’s explore why that’s a crime… for both parties.


The Lighthouse The Wingless Homage versus Homage
The Green Goblin and Batman in happier times

THE LIGHTHOUSE – THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOMAGE AND THEFT

Part 3 – You’re just making them Immortal

Let’s presume every artist works for one single currency, and that currency is called Immortality. The longer you are known for, and by the greatest number of people, the greater your Immortality profits. 

As an Artist, one of the things you are trying to amass (consciously or unwittingly) is the greatest trove of Immortality you can before the bank – curiously – freezes all possible investments by you. At a certain point, and for clarity’s sake, let’s call this point Death, the only investments into your Immortality are by people other than you.

Every time you copy somebody’s work as an influence without a single cell of deviation, all you’re doing is added to the original artist’s Immortality bank account. Not yours. Theirs. 

Not that some Artists don’t deserve their eternal exaltation, but… don’t you deserve it too? After all, who is fighting for your memory, if not you? 

For every moment you are copying somebody else, nobody will be copying you.

That Immortality chump-change you are throwing at the originators is best spent reinvested into you. Or, if you are bankrupt a proper sense of self-worth, consider why you’re diluting the original artist’s work with the Crystal Pepsi version of whatever brilliance moved you in the first place? 

Copying without alteration is not homage, it is theft. 

Therefore, one must endeavor to be a much more artful thief.


The Lighthouse The Wingless Homage versus Willam Dafoe
Thanks, Slick Willy, I write good ‘n junk

THE LIGHTHOUSE – THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOMAGE AND THEFT

Part 4 – The New Mutants

A much better example of homage is, of all wildly-picked examples, the character design for Kefka Palazzo in the game Final Fantasy VI (don’t worry, this relates and the payoff is pretty neat). 

For the gaming uninitiated, Kefka is a megalomaniacal despot who, by endgame, ravages the planet in a fiery cataclysm. As a nice little cherry on top, Kefka has also ascended past the surly bonds of humanity into a species of Godhood. The final fight with this Harlequin God is in four phases, divided into quarters from the bottom to the top, and he appears like so:

The Lighthouse The Wingless Homage versus Kefka FF6 Tower of the Gods
Mother Brain, eat your heart out

The character artist for this design is Yoshitaka Amano, famous for his Final Fantasy box art and other major contributions to the franchise, gaming and anime. He is also a self-proclaimed lover of Gustav Moreau, a hugely influential French symbolist – and (wait for it… wait for it!) a contemporary of many of the visual influences of The Lighthouse. Compare the towering coil of Kefka to the painting of The Fall of Phaeton and see if you can feel the connection in terms of tone & mood – and how distant the easy visual pairings are to perceive.

The Lighthouse Homage versus Theft The Wingless John Burnett The Fall of Phaeton Gustav Moreau
Ahh! A lion? Up here?! The old gypsy woman was right!

There are clear nods to the source: themes of towering, the divine and the ethereal. The technique favors the same lighting and color palette. The composition is vertical with airy spacing and meticulous ornamentation. 

But the diversions in the particulars shape a whole new identity. The work has mutated, but not in the classic 80’s sense of dude-splashed-with-toxic-waste a la Robocop. The mutation here is a beautiful and benign one: a thousand thousand generations of life developing as one unique off-shoot from yet another unique off-shoot. You can trace the family line, but the child is uniquely its own thing.

That child has a name, and it is Homage.


The Lighthouse The Wingless Homage versus Robert Pattinson
“YOU DON”T PRONOUNCE THE H!!!!!”

THE LIGHTHOUSE – THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOMAGE AND THEFT

Part 5 – Where they actually got it right

Spoilers: The Lighthouse is decidedly not a hillarious teen-sex romp where an apple pie gets its just desserts. It is dark. I’ll put it this way: ain’t nobody doing no Lighthouse 2. At the end of the movie, the camera lingers on a shot of one of the dying characters, naked and devoured alive by seagulls (bring the kids). 

The Lighthouse The Wingless Homage versus Prometheus
First the tri-wizard tournament, now this?!

The visual influence for that shot is another untitled drawing by the symbologist Jean Delville. While the composition and tone are identical, do consider the elements that differ. Abstraction versus stark reality. Contrasting elements versus ambiguous form and lighting. One has a more abstract interpretation of death, the other is an obvious analogy for Prometheus ( the light in the Lighthouse is coveted all movie long and finally touched, leading to this charming scene).

The Lighthouse Homage versus Theft The Wingless John Burnett Jean Delville
The maker of Birdemic? Not a lover of symbologists, oddly enough

The influence is strong, the tone eminently deserving of an encore – but the shadings, the accents, the pinches of spice here and there. Eggers kept what made the influence work and what made it potent – and changed everything else. A proper homage. 

It is no crime to be influenced by the works of others. The greater crime is forgetting to influence others in kind.  

The Lighthouse The Wingless Homage versus Robert Eggers
Thank you–

John “The Wingless” Burnett is a 20 year User Interface Artist (UI Artist) and User Experience Designer (UX Designer) in the video game industry and digital design sphere. He is an award-winning artist available for hire or for UX Design Mentorship

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