Sorry for posting a late reaction to Tony Gilroy‘s Velvet Buzzsaw (Netflix, 2.1), an upscale foie gras horror film that I saw three or four days ago in Park City. My reaction is that I liked it well enough. At the very least I was mildly amused, mainly because it embraces an effete, arm’s-length approach to horror. Because elevated horror is right up Hollywood Elsewhere’s alley — “horror” as social metaphor in order to reflect some problematic aspect of present-day culture or whatever.
VB is a riff about greed among the phony-baloney denizens of the art world, and how a trove of spooky, recently-discovered paintings by a deceased madman are somehow able to kill their owners or, you know, anyone trying to profit off them in some way. As the Wiki synopsis says, it’s about “a supernatural force enacting revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art.”
The only thing that kept me from loving Velvet Buzzsaw is that I don’t see what’s so awful about art dealers and critics behaving and talking like phonies, or trying to sell overpriced “art” to filthy rich suckers, or any other aspect of this game. If you’re dumb enough to pay through the nose for questionable art, that’s your fucking problem. I certainly have no issues with art-world hustlers trying to fleece your sorry ass.
So I didn’t mind Velvet Buzzsaw. I wasn’t knocked out or enthralled or turned on, but I liked it well enough. I especially liked Jake Gyllenhaal‘s bisexual art critic, Renee Russo‘s art dealer and John Malkovich‘s over-the-hill painter, but at the same time I couldn’t fathom why Gilroy cast Zawe Ashton, who falls under the dual headings of “who?” and “not arresting enough’, in a secondary role.
But I have to be even more honest and admit that nothing I have to say could match Glenn Kenny‘s 1.30 N.Y. Times review, which is so perfectly written I can barely stand it.
These two paragraphs in particular:
“I found the horror stylings of the movie pleasantly old-school — oh no! a painting’s wild animals are moving, and they’re coming for you! — but I wonder whether they’ll satisfy contemporary Saw-crazy audiences. Gilroy’s pacing is adept, and the movie creates a what-will-happen-next tension, even as he continues to lather bile on his target.
“Gyllenhaal and Russo also starred in Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, an elaborate condemnation of broadcast journalism that played like an overheated cross between Network and Taxi Driver. Paparazzi and contemporary art are two topics apt to bring out sneers from Hollywood types who consider themselves too refined and clued in to be, well, Hollywood types.
“Nevertheless, a lecture on how the art world needs to disconnect itself from profit motive coming from a filmmaker who co-wrote Kong: Skull Island is pretty rich.”
Kenny surely understands, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, that if Velvet Buzzsaw were to open in a standard theatrical-first way, it would probably suffer the fate of other upscale horror flicks (Hereditary, The Babadook, The Witch) — mixed-to-positive reviews, not enough business.
Low-rent horror fans hate this sushi and Swedish meatballs approach — they just want their meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Gilroy to Business Insider: “It’s set in the world of contemporary art in Los Angeles, and its got a Robert Altman-like large ensemble cast. It’s got a Player vibe to it. There’s a large cast and we’re moving around from person to person as we move through this world.”