Above is a self portrait by Franz Messerschmidt. Not a scream as much as a grimace, this is one of sixty-four extreme, even grotesque "Character Heads" which he sculpted, believing that the act of creating them and using them as guides would help fight the evil spirits/mental illness plaguing him, and hopefully help others with similar afflictions. Hard to believe these were done in the 1770's; they are so modern in their sensibility.
Here's a collection of some of my favorite screaming faces from the past century.
TOP LEFT: On my first visit to John Fisher's house to learn to play Dungeons and Dragons, he showed me the cover of King Crimson's "In the Court of the Crimson King." John was a friend of my older brother, and the album belonged to his older brother. There was an overall older brother vibe happening as we listened to the first song, "Twenty-First Century Schizoid Man."
TOP RIGHT: A friend recently sent me a link to an animated student film that was inspired by the King Crimson album from almost forty years earlier. Six thousand paintings, according to the film's creator. I'm not sure how he is defining individual paintings as they seem to be digital, but a Herculean feat nonetheless.CENTER LEFT: Gottfried Helnwein's take on contemporary angst. If the King Crimson album had come out twenty years later, this could have been the cover. This is the first image I ever saw of his art, and he has been making indescribable things for most of my lifetime, touching on everything from Austria's whitewashed Nazi past to surreal visions of Donald Duck.
CENTER RIGHT: Still from Sergei Eisenstein's silent 1925 film "Battleship Potemkin." This is one of the final frames of the amazing Odessa steps scene, depicting Tzarist troops slaughtering innocent civilians.
BOTTOM LEFT: Francis Bacon's "Study After Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X." I grew up seeing this painting in the Des Moines Art Center, which was free and which I could ride to on my bike. I was fascinated by it as a kid, that something so terrifying could also be beautiful and in a museum. Maybe that is why it is still my favorite Francis Bacon painting. Was it inspired by Eisenstein's film as well as by Velazquez? I don't know.
BOTTOM RIGHT: A frame from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which made me think of the Bacon painting when I first saw it, but now everyone says is an homage to Eisenstein. It may also just be a coincidence—did Spielberg know what it would look like, when he filmed a time-lapse shot of a multilayered wax head collapsing under heat lamps? What isn't a coincidence is that it is showing the fate of the most sadistic Nazi in the movie.