Thursday, November 16, 2006Home

Diane Arbus Biopic now on limited screening

When Clint Eastwood's new film, Flags of Our Fathers, came out in theatres, I'm sure there was a collective sigh of disappointment when Joe Rosenthal, creator of the iconic picture that the movie's story is based around, was relegated to background character status. Films and biopics about photographers and their practice are few and far between, even though photographs feature prominently in many movies. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, is certainly a biopic, but critics are not enthusiastic about its successful treatment of a photographer's life. The squeezing of porcelain megastar Nicole Kidman into the role caused my first alarm bell to go off.

This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to most photographers. Watching someone clicking a shutter and spending hours in a darkroom hasn't much appeal to movie audiences at large, unless the circumstances are dangerous or exceptional; although, given today's current events, we can expect to see a lot more films with photojournalists as protagonists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and even New Orleans. Other genres of photography, however, are sadly lacking, expecially that of street portraiture, Mrs. Arbus' longtime passion before her suicide in 1971.

So why "
Fur?" This question was on my mind when I googled the movie. You are correct in guessing that I haven't seen it. Being in New Mexico, limited screenings rarely come my way. Saw sequels and Will Ferrell comedies abound, though. But I digress. From what I've learned, Robert Downey also stars, and spends nearly all of the movie in a full-body furry suit, and fills in as Kidman's imaginary friend/embodiment of her own fetishism. Manohla Dargis' New York Times Review puts it better than I ever could:

"Maybe they just got hung up on the repeated mentions of the word fur in the opening chapter of Ms. Bosworth’s biography. Whatever the case, they, like their subject, wander into dangerous territory, though without the same inspired results. In 1957, Arbus stopped working with her husband and began wandering New York after dark taking photographs. It’s instructive that the film doesn’t mention that she also studied with the photographer Lisette Model, whose interest in everyday people, with their odd shapes and suffering faces, was an obvious influence. The idea that art can also arise from example and instruction just wouldn’t jibe with the film’s vision of an otherworldly kingdom in which hard work, ego and depression of the sort that probably claimed Arbus’s life have no place."

So "An Imaginary Portrait," then, seems appropriate (and refreshingly honest). I'm reminded of the "biopic"
A Beautiful Mind. No one wants to watch a movie about mathemeticians working. Instead, I saw Russell Crowe being chased by imaginary Soviet spies and experiencing life in a dream world fueled by his own exceptional genius—hence the title. This, again, is understandable. A movie about math would never work with audiences. The darkroom, at least, can serve as romantic or suspenseful backdrop.

It seems that with Fur, an attempt has been made to explore a photographer's hidden fantasy life. Let me know what you think, if you've seen the movie, or if you haven't, like me. Are there any films that have been successful in distilling the practice of fine art photography? Let me know.


At 7:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you nuts? What is the point in making a comment about a film you have not seen? That is beyond time wasting. I think you might have too much time on your hands, bub! Or perhaps a reflection on one of the poorer uses of computer/internet technology. GET WITH THE PROGRAM and perhaps think about all the work that went into this film. It deserves comment by people who at least saw the damned thing! Gimme a break.

BTW-I did see it but reserve comment beyond saying it was an adventurous remake of Beauty and the Beast and NK and RD Jr were superb.

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a writer, I have reviewed many projects, books, movies, CDs, etc., without the benefit of reading, seeing, or listening to them. And I know I am not alone. Sometimes, just by the combination of who is doing what with whom and how, one can surmise the outcome. There are also the restraints of time and deadlines. If you are familiar with your subject (in a variety of ways) a good writer can "fudge." It's not a crime, and of course, it is not literature. After all, a review is just that, a review of something by one person, whether or not it's fact or fiction.


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