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« Chaos of History: Art in 1910 | Main | Change, Death and Pop Culture »

November 18, 2002

NYC Arts and Media on Film

Friedrich --

Just because my mind sometimes makes lists in the middle of the night, here’s a list of movies that accurately portray the NYC arts-and-media life.

The Big Clock. First-rate murder noir, with Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, set in a magazine empire, cracklingly directed by John Farrow (Mia’s father).

Sweet Smell of Success. Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster in a tense, flamboyant expressionistic cautionary fable about gossip and ambition, co-written by Clifford Odets, directed by Alexander Mackendrick. It helped establish one of the great movie looks – tabloid expressionism, via Weegee.

All About Eve. Joseph Mankiewicz directs Bette Davis, George Sanders, and Anne Baxter in a behind-the-scenes Broadway-and-stardom catfight melodrama. Campily exaggerated perfection, the favorite movie of innumerable gay men. The Wife contends that George Sanders’ performance nails a certain kind of critic once and for all.

The Fountainhead. Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, from the Ayn Rand philosophical potboiler, lovingly over-directed by King Vidor. Way-over-the-top bliss about a my-way-or-the-highway architect who’s loved and hated by a real woman. Wait till you see Neal get excited about the way Coop handles a jackhammer.

Youngblood Hawke. From a Herman Wouk blockbuster about an ambitious young novelist. A favorite of the Wife’s: “One of the movies that make you want to be a writer. It’s everything you want the NYC publishing life to be like – full of betrayals, penthouse parties and sleazy sex, little of which you actually encounter, unhappily. But I’m still looking!”

The Martin Scorsese/Richard Price/Nick Nolte episode from the three-part film, New York Stories. Nolte’s a middle-aged Ab-Ex painter trying to rev himself up for his next show. The gallery opening is a little – OK, a lot – overblown, but the movie is sly and ironic in a way you don’t usually associate with Scorsese, and the downtown painting-scene details are as if out of a documentary.

Six Degrees of Separation. Fred Schepisi directs a hyper-stylized version of John Guare’s play. Small-scale but panoramic tragicomic farce about race, art, class, money and fraudulence, with a great performance by Stockard Channing. If you want to see one movie that gets it all, this is it.

Basquiat. Julian Schnabel as a painter is a buffoon, as far as I’m concerned. As a filmmaker, though, he’s a terrific talent. This moody biopic of the live-fast-die-young ‘80s art star Jean-Michel Basquiat is canny about the mix of opportunism and idealism that can be so bewildering in the arts. Schnabel is great too at evoking the druggy high that art, beauty and hanging out in the art world can give you. Full of amazing performances, with Jeffrey Wright especially amazing as Basquiat.

Perfume. Half-improvised, Altmanesque look at the fashion and fashion-magazine industry, with a top-drawer cast (Rita Wilson is the standout as a magazine editor) and a chic look. Much better than Altman’s own “Pret a Porter,” and very true to the industry’s atmosphere of high-strung freneticism, sex, and terror. Released with no fanfare straight to video, it’s one of the more interesting American movies of the last few years.

After Hours. Good uptown boy Griffin Dunne spends a comic-nightmare night trapped downtown among bad arty people, directed by Martin Scorsese. Only lightly entertaining, but it gets the look and feel of SoHo and the Village.

High Art. Gloomy little indie picture about a wary young photographer (Ally Sheedy), but on-the-money about ambition, self-seriousness, compromise, and worries about whether or not you’re selling yourself.

Pollock. Ed Harris directs himself as the Ab-Ex titan. As a movie, it’s dead on the screen, but as information about the New York art world circa 1950, it’s accurate and trustworthy. Drink and brawl with De Kooning and the boys at the Cedar Bar. Watch the intellectuals tell the artists what they should be doing. Roll your eyes at the antics of that daffy Peggy Guggenheim (an amusingly far-out performance by Amy Madigan).

Eyes of Laura Mars. One of the first of the high-class serial-killer thrillers, with a young Tommy Lee Jones as a cop and Faye Dunaway as a fashion photographer whose S/M photos might be triggering off the killings. Cheesily effective as a thriller, dead-on about the look of the scene circa 1980.

It seems to me there must be movies I’m overlooking or that just aren’t occurring to me. Help, anyone?

Hey, how about a list from you of movies that do a good job of portraying the arts-and-media life in L.A. and SoCal? A couple of titles to get you started: “The Player,” and “Heartbreakers.”

Perhaps some 2blowhards readers would enjoy suggesting movies that do a good job of showing the arts-and-media life in the city where they live – London, Christchurch, Paris, Austin, wherever. If enough such suggestions come in, I’ll re-post later with a comprehensive, clip-and-save list.



posted by Michael at November 18, 2002


The recent Paltrow/Hawke Great Expectations from Alfonso Cuaron skewers artsy pretension pretty well.

But the greatest movie about the art world in general is F For Fake, Orson Welles's great pseudo-documentary about art forger Elmyr De Hory and the people who love him. Or hate him. It's funny and flamboyant and brilliant and ego-maniacal and typically Orsonian. Check it out.

Posted by: Brian on November 19, 2002 9:57 AM

My favorite movie about the movies is Richard Rush's _The Stunt Man_, starring Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, and Barbara Hershey.

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector on November 20, 2002 5:26 PM

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