Thursday, December 01, 2005

Transparent Art.

Last night I watched the film High Art for the first time in years. For a bit of context (which may prove completely unnecessary to this review), I saw the film as a young queer boy living in a large, not-so-metropolitan midwestern city. This was the late nineties of Queer cinema. The movies were fluffy, ridiculous and purely emotional sedatives. A few films from the earlier ilk of Queer cinema (more brooding and meditative films all concerning, if not directly, the devastation and still in the shadow of AIDS) made in more remote regions (like Canada?) were just filtering into the theaters, but for the most part the happy Tricks and Get Reals ran the market. Now, There is a need for most things. Films like Get Real helped with my acceptance of who I was and how I (could) fit into the world around me. (In that region, queer youth need all the help they can get!) Along side these coming-out happy flicks were the "look-where-this-will-get-you" films like Boys Don't Cry and High Art. I remember going to see High Art. I remember who I was with (a group queer kids and my mother). I remember what I was feeling (in a large context that I will not even bother with here). But I don't remember much about the film. There's a reason. High Art is one of the most flaccid (pardon the pun) films I have seen in a long time. I remember it marking a certain point in time, and it does. It marks a time when films such as these were made. And I mean that in the best way possible. Where films like High Art may not be good, for the time in which they came out they are essential for the progression of Queer cinema at large. The look, the attitude, the music are all completely indicative of the late nineties. Radha Mitchell is the typical lesbian coming-out-in-the-late-nineties character (if you factor out Syd's ambition) in all the good ways and bad. The Syd character is not so much a character as she is a pretty girlish face for the audience to (cathartically) learn through, but to also know more than . For the people watching High Art are typically going to be queers or queer family members (i.e. fag hags or my mom, which is really one in the same). They will have already gone through (however long ago) what Syd is now facing. Syd is the sigh factor of the film - the "remember when" ploy that makes you empowered. The Lucy character played by Ally Sheedy is a different thing entirely. As I discuss in my essay on Queer culture AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT SKYLIGHT BOOKS IN LOS FELIZ FOR A MEER $4, Sheedy is the projection of our lust (sort of). The cool who-we-wish-we-were embodiment of the film who has gone awry by following that ego a few too many times. This is made all the more clear as Sheedy is so well known as the innocent arty chick in The Breakfast Club. We have seen time transpire on her face - and we rely on our knowledge from previous films as to how we perceive the Lucy character. This move is one of director Lisa Cholodenko's smartest. Still, watching the Syd and Lucy characters interact is about as bland as it comes. Both actresses, though filling their physical and structural purposes, are exceptionally mediocre. The moments where the narrative calls for the two to tête á tête are really the weakest scenes in the film. Cholodenko attempts to make up for their lack of passion with superb color schemes and soundtrack, but still does not pull it through. I lied a little. I did recall one thing about the film very strongly. And it was the reason I rerented the film. The one thing that saves this movie from being a complete waste of time is an absolutely STELLAR performance by Patricia Clarkson as Greta. Sad that a woman completely fucked up on heroin the entire movie would have more vitality than its (sober) protagonists. As a former Fassbinder star, Greta's lines are the only ones with any humor, but, what's more, compasion. Though she is (very flatly) written as the most contemptible element of the film (perhaps it's a tie with Syd at the film's close) Clarkson's delivery infuses her cardboard character with yearning and sadness. When she tells Lucy she loves her, it is the only point in the film that anything remotely resembling love is actually depicted. I cannot say I was surprised to find that High Art had not lived up to my expectations (though Clarkson's performance may have even ripened with age). Cholodenko's last film Laurel Canyon was one of the most excruciating piece of dreck I have ever sat through. But as you may find, I say that a lot. For anyone who wants to know about the film (plot, characters...) you can go here or rent it.


Blogger J said...

Show me a film where Patricia Clarkson is not the best part about it. The same could be said about Tilda Swinton. There are only two things I remember about "High Art": Clarkson and the sex scene between Radha and her skeleton of a boyfriend. It lasts so much longer than you expect it to, conjuring a hypnotic quality that is attempted to dulpicate without success throughout the rest of the film.

4:06 PM  

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