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"You think I'm strange, that I can't be normal."
[Reposted in expanded form from here.]

"Fur" contains the first full-body shaving scene with erotic/symbolic intent we’ve come across in our years of watching movies. The first, and, it’s probably safe to say, last. You have to tip your hat to that — director Steven Shainberg‘s "imaginary portrait" of photographer Diane Arbus pursues an interesting premise deep into territory that would have most filmmakers surrendering in self-shame. It’s a valiant mess, but such an odd and unrepentant one that we left halfway won over.

As an opening title card informs us, the film is not a historical biography but one that "invents characters and situations that reach beyond reality to express what might have been Arbus’ inner experience on her extraordinary path" — a tactic necessitated by the fact that the Shainberg didn’t have the rights to use Arbus’ actual photographs. The film is set in 1958 New York, shortly before she launched the career that would eventually make her one of the foremost photographers of the century. Diane (Nicole Kidman), at least in the film’s imaginings, was at this point a perfectly groomed 50s housewife, caring for her two daughters and assisting her husband Allan (Ty Burrell) with his commercial photography studio. But not meant for the role of faded helpmate is Diane, whose life comes crashing in after she befriends her mysterious neighbor Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.), a man afflicted with hypertrichosis, a condition that’s left him covered with the titular full-body pelt.

Like Shainberg’s last film, "Secretary," "Fur" mixes a hyperconscious fairytale tone with themes of blooming outré sexuality. Lionel’s apartment, tucked away up a winding staircase in the depths of the building, is the rabbit hole through which Diane enters a nocturnal world of amputees and dominatrices, dwarves and drag queens. If the film weren’t so quick to introduce Lionel to the rest of the Arbuses, he could almost be imaginary, a freakshow Harvey arriving to seduce Diane away from her immaculate apartment and mild-mannered spouse and into another realm.

Shainberg apparently grew up in a house filled with Arbus’ photos — she was a friend of his uncle’s. It’s odd, then, that the film so simplifies her interest in unusual subjects — recalling a boy with a large birthmark she followed home as a child, Diane sighs breathily "He was so beautiful." Kidman plays the photographer as a wide-eyed, timorous-voiced ingenue whose interest in the unusual could absolutely never be conveyed as anything but benign. The spectre of voyeurism has been locked away in the basement — Diane, the film insists, was as much an oddity as the subculture she loves (and in the film’s world that word is most definitely singular — all those counter to the shiny, pastel norm mingle together in an all-accepting urban utopia). And why? Because she cared to look, and, we’re often reminded, to listen. The film’s favorite image is of Diane laying her camera aside to speak to someone; any fan of Arbus’ work will likely chafe at the reduction of her startling portraiture talents to a willingness to hold hands and share secrets with her subjects first.

As the invented Lionel, Downey Jr. manages to convey a whole weary world with just his gaze. Kidman, on the other hand, acts with all her might, but never manages to emotionally engage or present any convincing complexity. "Fur" doesn’t ultimately give much insight into the subject it purports to examine — instead, it’s more a portrait of a portrait of an artist. We end up with a good idea of how Shainberg imagines Arbus, as an unhappy girl, yet another repressed housewife with a unexpressed inner life, yearning for freedom. In trying to buck the biopic trend, Shainberg has achieved something structurally inventive but thematically flat or flat-out risible. His most provocative (and praiseworthy) move is to not include Arbus’ suicide at age 48. Given Indiewood’s love of fetishizing the tragic ends of mentally fragile female artists (Kidman herself walked loaded her pockets with rocks and walked into the river as Virginia Woolf in "The Hours" — Oscar!), it must have been a great temptation indeed.

Opens in New York and Los Angeles November 10th.

+ "Fur" (Picturehouse)

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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