High Art (1998) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
I don't know if we have ever had a more dramatic split on a film, except maybe The Harrad Experiment. Tuna offers a thumb way up, and Scoop thrusts his thumb down to Hades or below.
Tuna's comments in white:
High Art (1998) is a tragic Lesbian love story, set
in Manhattan. Radha Mitchell plays Syd, a newly promoted assistant
editor at a photography magazine. She is eager and full of ambition
and the wonder of youth, and currently living with her yuppie
boyfriend. When she discovers a leak in her ceiling, she goes to the
apartment upstairs, and meets Lucy Berliner (former brat packer Ally
Sheedy), once considered a great photographer, now just a heroin
addict in a long term relationship with a failed German actress and
fellow addict named Greta, played by Patricia Clarkson in a
brilliant portrayal. The two of them live with a collection of other
addicts who wonder in and out of the apartment. The mutual
attraction between the assistant editor and the photographer is
immediate and palpable through the entire film. The editor wants to
bring the photographer out of retirement to do a cover for her
magazine, both as an excuse to be around her, and to further her own
career at the magazine. The photographer agrees to do the comeback,
on the condition that the young editor be assigned as her personal
editor for the project.
Although the lust is not very explicit, I thought the obvious attraction between Sheedy and Mitchell to be very hot throughout. In addition, the performances were outstanding, and the story line was true to life. They didn't even cop out on the inevitable ending to a heroin-based relationship.
Scoop's comments in yellow:
If you want to be a filmmaker, I can tell you exactly how to get good reviews for your first movie.
Mind you, you won't make a penny as a result of it. Your film will probably never make it to the box office at all. If it does, it will play in about three theaters in New York and California. And even those few small theaters will be deserted. But you will get good reviews.
Here is how:
Find a halfway decent, sensitive, unproduced script about a tragic love triangle between a man and two women - the kind of sincere film from a first-time screenwriter that would pull in a 5.5 or a 6.0 at IMDb if it could ever get made. Buy the rights from the author, who has certainly despaired of ever seeing his script produced, and will sell to you willingly and cheaply, just to get the exposure. Change the man to a woman and make it a lesbian love triangle. Do not change one word of the script, except the necessary personal pronouns. Do not even change the name of the male character. It if was a guy named Hank, it is now a lesbian named Hank. No problem. Voila! Instant lesbian classic.
In fact, some people may rave that it is the greatest gay movie ever made. Think about it. What is the competition? Have you ever seen a really great movie with a central gay romance? Your script would seem mediocre, probably on the low side of mediocre, if you directed it as the author wrote it, but in comparison to other gay films, it will seem to be genius.
But your situation is even better than that. Because you didn't change one word from the original script (excepting "him", "his" and "he", of course), people will praise the fact that you avoided all the gay stereotypes and showed gay people simply to be people, with problems and dreams indistinguishable from anyone else's. You will not be guilty of casting the bad characters in a condescendingly good light, nor will you be guilty of creating a halo effect around your sympathetic characters. You will have a subtle, nuanced, portrayal of gay life that shows how similar we all really are. You will pick up some great reviews and possibly win some film festival awards. As I mentioned earlier, you will not make one cent on the film, so pinch your pennies. Your hope is that somebody with money will be impressed, will recognize your genius, and will hire you to direct another movie. That's where you will make your money if you eventually prove to have some sense of what is marketable. Just getting a chance like that is a great accomplishment, because there are about a gazillion people wandering around the film industry who simply want a such a chance to show what they can do. While they struggle, you have found a short cut.
So it is with High Art. The director here wrote her own script rather than buying an unproduced one, but the Ally Sheedy character, a photographer, could have been cast with a man without changing one word of dialogue except the personal pronouns. If the director had done so, however, it would not even be a watchable film. You would find it to be a typically pretentious NYU/Columbia-style bit of indulgent pseudo-intellectual New York Bohemianism. Most of the main characters spend their time wasted on heroin. If you've ever been around nodders, you know that their actions do not make for much of a spectator event. To make matters worse, the characters who are not on heroin also seem to have the same low energy level.
In fact, this entire project is even a cut below a film school project, because nobody involved in the set bothered to check some simple things which were necessary for the characters to stay in character, and which good film school students would probably have caught. For example, a German woman is speaking on the phone and mispronounces a German word! It is a place that ends in - platz. She pronounces it to rhyme with "bats", the way a native New Yorker would pronounce "Blatz" beer. For another example, two of the supposed intellectuals in the film - not one, mind you, but two - mispronounce the word "sycophant" - pronouncing it "psycho-phant", as if it represented not a hanger-on or a self-seeking flatterer, but rather a very disturbed pachyderm.
Frankly, if you overlook the lesbian hook, which was simply matter of casting a women in the role and nothing more, it just isn't that good a movie. By using the technique of making the central character a woman, however, the film garnered some solid praise from the many critics who review films by assessing their political correctness rather than their quality or entertainment value.
To be honest, the film did have one very strong redeeming factor. In the center of it all, Ally Sheedy, the nexus of the love triangle, was gritty and real and multi-dimensional, and turned in a powerful performance as the doomed artist. She was strong enough to carry the film to a high enough level that it could at times be both effective and affective, so many critics overlooked the endless, boring, drugged-out scenes and one-dimensional minor characters, choosing to talk instead about the things that moved them.
I found those good moments to occur too infrequently, and was waiting for the film to end after I was only about twenty minutes into it.
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