My interest in any movie about the Art World is complicated. The first question is “has Velvet Buzzsaw ripped off my unpublished novel, Work Shy where an artist’s reputation is made after an early, suspicious death?” Secondly, does it add to the canon of movies that really describe that alien world like maybe Basquiat or Pollock?” There is already a memoir from Australia with the same title as my book. That shook me up. Luckily, it is the memoir of musician, Dave Raney who’s a legend Down Under. He used to sing with the post-punk band, the Moodists. Oddly enough, I met him once upon a time. Hopefully, his effort will not infringe on my up and coming brand. I was worried about Velvet Buzzsaw since the story tells of an Outsider Artist made famous and “wealthy” after death. My view is that the Art World is dangerous enough without any added drama. “Outsider Art” is now big business and dealers have their own Art Fairs to milk the tortured and deceased artists who were frequently poor and mentally challenged. What a relief to see the film and realize it is a different sort of fish – plotted around the meme of artist as supernatural serial killer with a nod to A Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) – so I don’t have to sue the Director, Dan Gilroy. Speaking of Art Fairs, it could be that the release of Velvet Buzzsaw was timed to create extra buzz for the opening of the first Frieze LA this month. Lord knows, there are enough rich celebrities in Hollywood who can afford to be high-level collectors if you can pry them off the red carpet.
There are not a lot of films that deal with the realities of the Art World much less its connection to most artist schlubs and their day jobs. I had researched this arena for inclusion in my own story starting with way-old films like The Horse’s Mouth (1958) with Alec Guinness as the near crazy English painter, Gully Jimson. Artists are frequently depicted as insane (Van Gogh) or charlatans (Warhol). Add to that the Faustian painting pact with the Devil, Oscar Wilde’s, Dorian Gray. High Art (1998) did a fine job with Ally Sheedy and friends depicting ‘intellectuals’ leading up to the ‘adventurous’ Lesbian love scene. Content like this is now ubiquitous and can be seen as family viewing every night on HBO! The most recent send-up was Art School Confidential (2006) that had a great take on flakey, first year students. It was originally a “cartoon” graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. Of course, Hollywood added steroids and the movie fell short with a superfluous murder plot. It is not a coincidence that John Malevich is in both films playing a similar disenchanted professor/artist. He is the perfect over-the-hill narcissist. ASC also featured the wonderful Steve Buscemi who I mention all the time in my novel because it is the right thing to do.
Art snobbery starts way down the food chain and only grows with the money. I recognize the syndrome from my own time on the margins in NY, London and even Philadelphia. Local curators are referred to as the “Art Mafia” by my fictional and disenfranchised Work Shy characters. Even in Philly art careers are made by the governance of certain players. I won’t say the local art criticism has much to do with the rise and fall of artists but one can see when the flavor of the month is being nurtured in the press around Pew Grant time. The buzz has been severely diminished lately by the disappearance of the old hard-copy weeklies and normally stops at the city limits.
Although VB falls short of any meaningful, in-depth depiction, it is a lot of fun as it falls into a well-worn kill-all-the-snobs horror movie; it could have been titled Das Nicht Schadenfreud! But how little “scare” there was as the Outsider Art comes alive. Normally I would be hiding being the sofa when a scary painting rips VIPS into parts. Could it be that the creation of these movies for the flat and smallish screen limits the scope? I really didn’t feel vindicated when justice was dispensed or I didn’t hate the critic (Jake Gyllenhaal) and curators enough. How can you hate Rene Russo? There was an attempt to get behind the stage like in The Player (1992) but it wasn’t wise enough for that. Even my un-edited manuscript devises to include a cinematic version of itself! Pretty fucking clever. I only hope Malevich or Buscemi will still be available. It is disappointing to think what VB could have achieved. The title’s mash up of Velvet Underground and Buzzcocks strikes me as a wholly contrived bid for punkish street cred very far from today’s slick concern for auction prices. I remember Basquiat (1998) having some real 80’s SOHO feel only a painter/director like Julian Schnabel could deliver. Fact and fiction merge literally with David Bowie’s Warhol. The film I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) was also informative. Not many know the story of Valerie Solanas. The seamy underside still resonates. Warhol and Basquiat had some mysterious connection that finished them off within a year or so of each other. Weird. I am glad that we have another movie about the art world but wish that Velvet Buzzsaw had a few more creepy notes of Polanski or David Lynch. It could have been a cult classic rather than standard Netflix fare.--> -->