Monday, January 08, 2007

"Art School Confidential" (2005).

I usually don't watch mainstream Holllywood productions, but I figured that Art School Confidential might just stray from the mediocrity so persistent in theaters today. For some reason I thought the continuing partnership between Terry Zwigoff (director) and Daniel Clowes (producer, writer) would yield some tasty fruit. I honestly wasn't that fond of Ghost World (their first project together), but I like some of the work they have completed individually. Zwigoff made a pair of excellent documentaries in Crumb and (the seldom seen) Louie Bluie. And I have appreciated Clowes' comic art for years (especially in his Eightball series). But as much as I would like to be able to say that it was more than mildly amusing... I found it rather ordinary.

Unfortunately Clowes and Zwigoff relied on many of the same tired tricks that one can find in any "quirky" comedy of angst released to the masses every year. Granted, the characters were intended to be cliches... but they were so typically obvious that it was difficult to enjoy their portrayal. How many times must we be exposed to the "silly hippy" and the "angry young lesbian"? I truly would have expected more from Clowes. The reviews I read suggested that viewers who appreciate dark and bitter humor would enjoy Art School Confidential for its misanthropy. I didn't see anything beyond garden variety cynicism. The indictment of modern art was simplistic and pathetically unenlightening. The love angle between the protagonist and his object of desire cheapened the entire affair, turning it into a bad John Hughes movie.

I had heard a lot about a distracting plot device involving a strangler and a series of campus killings. With all of the other failures in characterization, I hardly even noticed this contrivance enough to be bothered by it. Yes... it strains credibility, but it can't take away any element of realism that wasn't there in the first place. At the very least, it gave the characters something to do besides play out their exaggerated archetypes.

Having outlined my significant critical reaction against the film, I feel obligated to point out that I wasn't bored by it. I liked the idea that the fillmmakers would take on a subject and setting that I had not seen in the movies before. There is certainly fertile ground for satire in the art school. Maybe I owe Zwigoff and Clowes the benefit of the doubt for taking this on... most of the audience would naturally be unfamiliar with the entire milieu. While I would have appreciated more complex commentary on art education and the gallery scene, I can understand that it would have been lost on many Americans. But I feel like they could have at least pandered a bit to those "in the know", and made some wink-and-a-nod references to make them feel at home. This could have added another layer of meaning to the experience. As it was, I didn't see enough of that.

Not having been an art school student myself, I could be entirely wrong in my assessment of the film. Perhaps all such students really are embittered and embattled... loser malcontents trying to find social reward (i.e. get laid) through making bad art. And maybe all the instructors are pathetic has-beens, looking to cement their academic positions. On the other hand, it could be that I have completely missed the point. This was based on a comic book. And maybe comic books are just for kids. And if that's true, then it is appropriate to make a movie like Art School Confidential. Perhaps its creators understand their demographic... Does the average American filmgoer have the mentality of a child?

5 Comments:

Blogger Lee said...

This one's in my Netflix queue.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Karen Lillis said...

Thanks for this review. I thought the film was unbelieveably bland and at times terrible considering the talent of the people involved.

If you haven't read Clowes comic, go find it. I'm not a comic reader, it's just a great story and commentary, told in Clowes' primary medium.

I think I agree with Ingmar Bergman, who doesn't believe that novels and other literature should be adapted to film. He believes filmmaking is its own art, and the storytelling should come organically from the constraints of the medium.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Karen,

I'm actually a big Clowes fan. I loved "David Boring" and "Like a Velvet Glove...". I can only imagine that it looks better on the page.

I'll have to give the Bergman quote some thought. I'm trying to decide how many of my favorite films were books first.

1:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a "Louie Bluie" Festival being planned near LaFollette, Tennessee which is Howard Armstrong's homet town.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I loved "Louie Bluie", and own it on video. It is absolutely criminal that there is not a DVD release of this film. I would certainly attend that festival if it were in my power to do so. Who knows, if it is going to be held in the summer, I might be able to go. Let me know if you find out the dates.

8:15 PM  

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