Sunday, 22 February 2009

Fur (2006)

I actually watched this film a few weeks back, but couldn't quite decide whether I really wanted to write about it or if I could collect my thoughts sufficiently to make any worthwhile comments. The movie is subtitled 'An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus' which is the main reason that I wanted to see it -- and like so many unsuccessful films, it was not straightforward to find a copy here. Diane Arbus was one of the great photographers of all time -- not a point that I wish to argue -- and the story of her life from her moneyed New York Jewish background through her suicide at a relatively young age would have made a fascinating biopic, but this movie is not that creature. Instead the filmmakers have created a make-believe rationale for her development as a highly original talent which, while not uninteresting, has absolutely nothing to do with the real artist. Apart from playing fast and loose with the facts of her life, there are no examples of her work -- not even pastiche samples -- which is rather like filming a composer's biopic without his music.

Nicole Kidman is totally wrong physically for the embodiment of small, dark Diane, a tall painfully thin and painfully pale spectre, under the thumb of her overbearing parents and husband. According to this film her conversion begins when an intriguing masked man moves into her apartment building and how she becomes infatuated and indoctrinated by her new neighbour, Lionel. He is played by the ever-remarkable Robert Downey, Jr. as a man suffering from an illness which manifests itself by covering him from head to toe in thick, silky hair -- an artsy Chewbacca if you will. His apartment is filled with curios and photos of freaks and he undertakes educating the repressed Diane by introducing her to his strange circle of friends. Anyone familiar with her actual work knows that she not only liked to photograph unusual-looking folk -- giants, midgets, nudists, subnormals -- but that even ordinary people look somewhat freakish in her pictures. This distinctive take on humanity is what makes her photography something special and it is a little flip to suggest that she was led into this mindset by a tragic romance.

On its own terms the film is well-made and absorbing, but it is something of a disappointment for anyone who knows anything at all about Arbus.
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