Velvet Buzzsaw

Rating:

ART ISN’T EASY

Main Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo

Director: Dan Gilroy

I returned to Casa Maine somewhat exhausted from my European excursion, but a couple of good nights sleep and a delicate little pitcher of pina coladas helped perk me right up and get me back to fighting form.  The first stop was a sit-down meeting with Leah, head of my consumer products division.  The holidays are coming up and I want to make sure that there are plenty of VickiWear creations and Lesterene brand cosmetics flying off the store shelves, helping to make the women of middle America as chic and glamorous as yours truly.  We’ve had a fair amount of success in the past with the fully edible Lesterene line of facial masques and moisturizers which can double as tempting treats or emergency rations.  We’d been working on savory tastes in the past but we’re going to go with a special holiday sweets line this year including a gingerbread exfoliator and a pumpkin spice deep pore cleanser.  Leah was able to pick up some rather cunning tins shaped like Christmas ribbon candy that were lying around in the back of an old warehouse in Tarzana and we’re having them stenciled with a little drawing of me in my famous Yul B Sari from that Bollywood extravaganza I did with Mr. Brynner back in the early 70s – the one in the peppermint stripe.  It should provide just the right festive touch. 

pina colada by AlejandroLinaresGarcia
I require my beverages be as festive as my wardrobe

Leah has had a brilliant idea for a new line of holiday sweaters from VickiWear.  We’re going to use the images from some of my more famous film posters but add Santa hats and candy canes to the artwork.  We’re having mockups made now so we can get the final designs to the factory and recalibrate the machines to knit thousands of copies of me as Anne Boleyn or Emma Bovary but with just the right touch of holiday cheer.  Joseph, my manager, has been working hard to get the on camera cast from one of the national morning shows to wear them in order to gain extra publicity and spur sales.  I’ve suggested we throw in a dollar from every sale towards a worthy charitable cause as a sweetener.  I’m partial to the holiday charity that provides good cheer to impoverished brass players worldwide, Toys for Toots.

Then it was off to the day spa for a mani-pedi and to have my hair given a good going over by Mr. Mackey.  Its dips in the Rhine in recent weeks had done it no favor.  This was followed by a late lunch at Pinks Hot Dogs and then a leisurely drive back up Sunset to the house where I settled myself in for an evening of Netflix and chill.  In thumbing through the possibilities, I happened upon Velvet Buzzsaw, a little film that had come and gone quite rapidly earlier this year.  As it had a rather impressive cast, I decided to give it a whirl, not really knowing what to expect.  The title, which refers to a fictional punk band of some years ago, doesn’t really give you much to go on.

I found Velvet Buzzsaw to be a mashup of three radically different genres, two of which work relatively well, and one of which does not.  The first is a mordant satire of people with too much money and an inflated sense of self involved in the art world of Los Angeles.  These include Jake Gyllenhaal as a gay critic, practically dripping with ennui despite his hunky African American boyfriend and the ability to make or break careers with a few words from his viperish pen, and Rene Russo as a conniving art dealer who has a nose for a bargain and who isn’t above cutting a few corners to get what she wants.  Throw in John Malkovich as a famous artist who has sold out to industrial scale reproductions of his old work and is bereft of new ideas, Daveed Diggs as a street artist on the cusp of striking the big time and Toni Collette as a museum buyer who wants to join the big leagues and you have the makings of an interesting film along the lines of Robert Altman’s The Player, although the sun-drenched surrealism reminds me a bit more of the Judy Davis film The New Age

These characters and their relationships, however, are trapped in the second film, a psychological thriller.  Rene Russo’s assistant, Zawe Ashton, comes home one day to find an elderly man who lives in another apartment in her building has died.  He was a loner and a painter and when she peeps into his hoarder’s lair, she finds it full of canvases he has painted which have a magnetic attraction due to their slightly twisted take on reality.  It’s the instructions of the deceased that all the work be destroyed, but she’s having none of that and she steals the canvases and takes them to the gallery where she works where her boss and the other pretentious art snobs declare a new outsider art master and start to see the dollar signs mounting as they sell them off to collectors with more money than sense.  Velvet Buzzsaw has some interesting comments on the power of art on the psyche as the art starts to have an effect on these people and their relationships and they start doing things they might not otherwise to protect themselves and their newfound treasure.

Unfortunately, here’s where the third film kicks in, the supernatural slasher flick.  You see the artist poured all of his troubled psyche into his work and all of a sudden, this power starts to cause artwork, both his and that of other people, to come to life and start killing off the cast in various nasty ways.  The idea is interesting, but it’s not executed particularly well.  I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be horrified or giggle when the monkeys in a bad print of a dogs playing poker type painting reach out through the frame and grab poor Billy Magnussen in a thankless role of factotum and delivery driver.  I think writer/director Dan Gilroy is intending this portion of the film to be satirical in its own way, but it just doesn’t quite work. Velvet Buzzsaw would have been stronger if he had simply left it up in the air as to whether the art was actually cursed or whether our pretentious twits simply created all of that out of their somewhat addled minds.  I think he added this element so he could do his last scene, which was likely his first idea in the creative process, and which finally explains the title, and which is the one moment that feels truly original in terms of blood and gore.

Velvet Buzzsaw is worth seeing for some fine actors playing well in the sandbox together.  Jake Gyllenhaal continues to prove he can actually act and subsumes his usual persona into his character fully.  Rene Russo shows that an older woman can be beautiful and complicated.  She’s much more alluring than the younger women in the cast.  Toni Collette, usually excellent on film, is competent, but a bit done in by a rather unfortunate wig that looks like it was purchased from the remainder bin at Party City.  It has some interesting sequences that are well put together and it’s never boring as it takes off in new directions every few minutes as each of the three genres it represents jockeys again for top position.  Give it a look; it’s unlike anything else you’re likely to see this year.

Modern art. Modern art museum. Modern art galleries. Murderous modern art pieces. Burnt chest. Dumpster lie. Hanging gallery owner. Bloody footprints.  Coffee errands. Sexuality switches. Raw silk ottoman.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia (CC3.0)

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