Art in Film Review
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"What is art, and what gives it meaning?" This question has been raised in film for years in order to express particular views on society. Two very distinctive, but exceptional movies come to mind. The stylized Blowup (1966) explores personal alienation amidst the sexual revolution of 1960’s London, while the hilarious Art School Confidential (2006) articulates eccentricity and politics in the art world.

While photographing an older man and younger woman (Vanessa Redgrave) in the park, an unnamed London fashion photographer (‘60’s heartthrob David Hemmings) later realizes that he has witnessed a murder, or has he? Movie critics and film historians still disagree on what Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-speaking film, Blowup actually means. In addition to questioning the meaning of art, many believe that he poses the question, "What is reality?" I believe that he is also observing the cultural change of swinging 1960’s London.

With lust and freedom comes alienation. Individuals desperately search for happiness, to no avail. We first see unemployed, dejected workers opposite joyous mimes ("artificial" people.) The main character, a photographer, is unnamed in the movie, though we’re told that his name is Thomas via the closing credits. I think this is done intentionally, as we learn very little about him; he doesn’t matter. We see this seductive but despicable photographer treating his anorexic-looking models, and women in general, simply as objects. However they’re willing participants. Stoned partygoers are dancing alone, just as those attending a concert, by an unnamed band (actually the soon-to-be-famous Yardbirds.) The fans are subdued until the lead guitarist (Jeff Beck, for you rock historians) throws a smashed guitar into the crowd. Everyone fights for it, and our photographer manages to finally grab it and escape, only to realize that it is worthless outside of its context. We even start to feel sorry him, as he, like everyone else, is actually lonely.

Whatever you believe the theme of the film to be, the style is unique. Though a major studio (MGM) production, this movie is very arty. Music is used sparingly, but not to build suspense, and is strategically placed throughout the film. Colors are deliberately planted, bright red blaring midst a dull colored street. This is a very fascinating film as Antonioni fools us in so many ways. Every event slowly develops to relay to the viewers that they are watching a suspense thriller. Watch this multiple times, as you will continue to find something you missed.

In a very different movie, Daniel Clowes, screenwriter of Art School Confidential, claims that art school was to him "what Vietnam was to Oliver Stone." This hysterical but dark parody of the writer’s four-year art school experience and its many colorful characters became my pick for the best comedy of 2006.

Director Terry Zwigoff takes Clowes’ cynical view of today’s art scene—which could also be extended to movies—and creates a fast-paced, uproarious film, incorporating plot twists with satirical music and brilliantly understated performances.

Jerome (Max Minghella) grew up as a quiet, artistic kid, always the brunt of bullies. His dream in life was to be the "greatest artist of the 21st century." After all, Picasso got the girls and all the sex he could handle. On the other hand, poor Jerome couldn’t even get a single date. When he enters art school at the prominent Strathmore College in New York City, our fun begins. We meet his two roommates—a sexually confused fashion major and a film student attempting to produce a film on the town murderer. Oh yes, there’s a serial killer on the loose, dubbed the "Strathmore Strangler."

The rest of the students we meet all have naïve dreams about becoming great artists. Among them are the manic depressive girl, an angry lesbian, arty hippie, brown-noser, and I can’t forget Jonah (Matt Keeslar), the "normal" and traditionally handsome student who is celebrated by the rest of his classmates. Surprisingly, his conventional look and personality is perceived as eccentric and original by their quirky standards. Even his rudimentary drawings are viewed as innovative.

Next, there are the cynical teachers who realize the political reality of the art world. Jerome’s drawing instructor, Professor Sandiford (brilliantly portrayed by John Malkovich) is, of course, a frustrated artist. Audrey, (Sophia Myles) the nude model in Sandiford’s class, becomes Jerome’s muse and obsession. She shows quite an interest in Jonah, which triggers Jerome to completely unhinge. He starts by abandoning his own art, instead striving to beat Jonah at his uninspiring style. The more he tries to impress Prof. Sandiford, the more pathetic his teacher perceives him. His newfound vices of smoking and drinking become frequent. Still worse, he increases his visits to his new friend, Jimmy (Jim Broadbent) an older Strathmore alumnus. Talented (but does that matter?), dejected, filthy and drunk, Jimmy becomes somewhat of a mentor to Jerome. His demoralizing and depressing demeanor further penetrates Jerome’s psyche.

Can the young art student descend any further to the depths of creative hell or is there hope in sight? Sorry, I can’t give that away.

Let’s just say that if you’re just itching to laugh hysterically, pick up a copy of Art School Confidential. For a wonderful piece of artistic film making as well as a compelling view of a precursor to today’s society, Blowup is a must-see. And of course, let me know how you like them.

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