And Michelangelo said, Let there be God

Is Boris Karloff funny as Frankenstein’s monster? Almost unwatchably corny? If so, it’s because he’s such an exact, stereotypical imitation of… of… himself. Which naturally brings me to Michelangelo.

Well, it could be worse. It could bring me to Karloff’s interactive ad for Butter-Nut coffee which trades on his exceptional, campy resemblance to Boris Karloff. (And if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to Google it and drink deeply.) But in a desperate lunge for high culture cred, I’m going with Michelangelo instead because it was on Nov. 1, 1512, that his fresco on the roof of the Sistine Chapel was first shown to the public.

Yes, that one. With God with flowing white beard reaching out to touch Adam. The one you’ve seen parodied so often, from the Simpsons to the Muppets to bank card ads to the Pastafarians, that the original itself seems like a parody. Including that business of God as an old man with a big beard. Which is, of course, proof of its transcendent genius.

I’m sure there were one or two people who saw it on that Nov. 1 and went “Oh, I don’t like that.” But the majority must have known at once, like the audience for the 1st performance of Beethoven’s 9th, that the world was somehow changed, that something had been created that was as original as art can be, and technically brilliant, yet as natural that the reaction was half “It can’t be” and half “Of course.”

There’s a lot more up there, of course. Just as there’s a lot more to Karloff including, dare I mention it in this context, his iconic “mummy” on which every subsequent mummy movie is in some sense a commentary. Indeed, to have created two characters so worth parodying is a mark of the man’s genius. As is the fact that the only major award of his long acting career was a Grammy for the LP of… I presume you know that too. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (And the name, a stage name adopted while doing theatre in Canada; his actual name was the deeply not spooky “William Henry Pratt.”) And the fact that he parodied himself superbly, including in the original stage production of Arsenic and Old Lace where he played a gangster infuriated at being continually mistaken for Boris Karloff.

Oh, by the way, Michelangelo also did sculptures including the much-parodied David. (A Google search for “Michelangelo David parody” returned “About 7,510,000 results (0.88 seconds)”.

Not bad.