“The loneliest ebb of my life came on that Christmas eve, only one day after my arrival in New York. The abyss of loneliness. I ate a solitary dinner in a small cafe, and the very food tasted bitter with my unshed tears. One doesn't dare cry in America. It is unmanly here.” — Rudolph Valentino
The following is a preview of Via Crucis. This is still a work in progress.
Rudolph Valentino, promotional image for Paramount Films
Postcard, Ross Verlag Berlin SW68, ca.1925-26
Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the artistry of silent films, coupled with a strong sense of nostalgia, and a fascination for history. What started out as a tribute to Jazz Age New York as seen through the experiences of the era’s most iconic movie star soon became a story far more poignant and compelling, imbued with a sense of isolation and an existential crisis exacerbated by Valentino’s social environment and personified by a city continuously in flux.
I look at the final month of Valentino’s life in New York in stages as each day brings him closer to his fate. Via Crucis in Italian literally means the ‘Way of the Cross’, which depicts the steps leading to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Both historical figures have known the feverish veneration of the public, the pain of persecution, and the sting of betrayal. Struggling with his enormous fame, Valentino found himself constantly attacked by xenophobic journalists who slandered him as effeminate and turned their outrage on him when younger men began adapting his mannerisms. The end of his tempestuous marriage to Natacha Rambova (Winifred Hudnut), a few months before left him broken and despondent. A vicious article in the Chicago Tribune shred the last vestiges of his dignity. A painful abdominal ulcer was advancing toward the inevitable. Considering this, with this work I felt compelled to follow in the movie idol’s final footsteps in the dark of night, the grand old buildings still left from the era emphasizing an unshakable feeling of foreboding.
With influences such as modernist photography (in particular Brassaï), architecture, silent film aesthetic, and spirituality, the poetic tension of contrast — of light and dark, grittiness and elegance, interiors and exteriors, embody the themes of Valentino’s last days; from his internal state to the forces that pushed him towards his inevitable end. The city stands in as a merciless torture chamber, symbolizing his oppressive fame and the emotional and physical toll it took, trapping Valentino and by extension, the viewer, within the darkness of being inside “the belly of the beast”. Light guides our way as a beacon as Valentino tries to escape the surrounding darkness, in the form of lamps that direct us to our next “station”, and in between buildings and shining upon facades, indicating that the light is the key to Valentino’s liberation. In the end, Valentino did indeed find freedom in the light, and had the last laugh in immortality.
— Diana Rivera, 2021