Wanted to pop our head in for a quick overview of Steven Shainberg‘s "imaginary portrait," the most noteworthy film of a not-so-noteworthy but certainly release-heavy week.
+ "Fur": "’Fur’ is a folly, though not a dishonorable one," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. For her, a major problem is the present of Nicole Kidman, "whose talent cannot obscure that she has been grievously miscast and left to indulge her mannered coyness." David Denby, at the New Yorker, points out in our favorite review of the film that "The movie is meant to be an erotically charged version of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ but it comes off as Mrs. Miniver Meets Chewbacca." Hah! But really:
[T]he filmmakers behind “Fur” sentimentalize Arbus, bringing her back into the comfort zone of a woman who is more sensitive than other people to the trials of the unfortunate–exactly the kind of soft fifties liberalism that she knocked to pieces with her conquering stare.
The thing is, "Fur" is interesting — as Dana Stevens concedes in an otherwise scornful review at Slate, "if you see it with a smart friend, it’s a blast to hash over afterward." Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly calls the film "a truly boggling sophomore slump, one of those infamous second-act follies, like Steven Soderbergh‘s Kafka, made by a director blinded with ego and overreach." Armond White at the New York Press sighs that "Shainberg proposes that the freakish images that give many viewers pause about Arbus’ photography mirrored Arbus’ view of her own freakiness. That’s not romanticism; it’s sentimentality." He finds Kidman an actress who "is as expressive as an automaton model and whose career is distinguished by little talent, poor taste and huge ambition."
David Edelstein at New York notes of the moment when Diane begins her building wanderings:
What a change in the color scheme! The Arbuses’ flat is all cream and ash and oak, with occasional dabs of pale (Fiestaware) mustard, blue, and pink; whereas Lionel’s den explodes with lurid greens and crimsons and a dwarf. Hold on, sorry–a dwarf isn’t a color. Well, come to think of it, he is a color. And so are the giant and the woman with no arms. They’re not characters, anyway. They’re dÃ©cor.
At the Village Voice, J. Hoberman compares the film to "Secretary" and finds it similar but seriously lacking: "Fur uses a similar tale of successfully sublimated masochism to dramatize Arbus’s artistic awakening. In this case, though, the scenario is both foolishly allegorical and painfully literal-minded." Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE allows that though "slim credit is due to ‘Fur’ for showing enough restraint to leave alone the most sensationalistic aspects of Arbus’s life (I’m saying this about a movie that shows her shaving, then fucking a dogman…), there’s just nothing to recommend here."
On the fonder side, Stephanie Zacharek at Salon
finds the film a kind of flawed but "fancifully embroidered tapestry of
wishful thinking," one more generous than she thinks its subject
deserves. And Scott Foundas at LA Weekly writes that "much of the film is as strange and oddly beautiful as one of Arbus’ own photographs, bold in its attempt to find new ways of cracking the biopic chestnut and sensitive in its portrayal of a 1950s woman who, like so many of her contemporaries, finds herself imprisoned in a Good Housekeeping nightmare."
[Actually, we’d also like to note that "Linda, Linda, Linda," one of our favorite films from this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, is playing at the ImaginAsian theater, and should be seen by all.]