Judge Neal Solon actually had to sit down and watch a film about a performance artist in a butcher's shop. (The artist was in the shop—not Neal. Just to clarify.)
"I just don't want it to be motivated by money. I want it to be motivated by art. I'm an artist now…business and art are diametrically opposed."—Curtiss
High Blood Art is the feature film debut of Chris Weiher, an independent filmmaker from the Chicago suburb of Downer's Grove. The film revolves around Curtiss (Marc Lessman), who dropped out of business school to work at his father's butcher shop and to focus on what he considers his real passion: performance art. Things get complicated when Curtiss' best friend Arno (Chris Weiher) graduates from business school and comes home. The two make plans to use the basement of the butcher shop as a performance space, both as a business and as a platform for Curtiss' art, but the tension between money and art quickly takes center stage.
That's the story in a nutshell. It leaves out a lot of the quirks, like the actual performance art, but we'll get to those. Before going any further, though, I should say that I find reviewing independent films more awkward than reviewing big-budget blockbusters. It is much easier to imagine the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making a low-budget indie film. You know it took sacrifices on the part of the director and the crew. Because I respect—and almost envy—that passion and commitment, I almost feel an obligation to handle such films with kid gloves. At the same time, my job is to convey whether a film is entertaining, thought-provoking, or interesting enough to merit the attention of the readers of these reviews.
To that end, High Blood Art is billed as a "dark comedy." While it is certainly dark, there is little humor to be found in the film. The few nuggets of humor are found in obvious places. Curtiss' performance art is the most immediate source of snickers. Imagine: "social commentary" based around scraps and entrails from a butcher shop. Also amusing—and, admittedly, thought-provoking—is the intentionally ironic idea that Curtiss has "sold out" by pursuing art instead of his true forte: business.
Beyond that, High Blood Art tries too hard to be a picture about deception and coincidence, and to incorporate Curtiss' obsession with his "doppelganger," Fredrick C. Alphin (also played by Marc Lessman). The threads that tie these elements together are too tenuous for the resulting story to have any great effect. Instead, we have a number of disconnected episodes in the life of a butcher's son who wants to be an artist; the viewer is apt to find himself a step or two behind, trying to figure out what exactly is happening.
The DVD itself is unimpressive. The film is presented in its original full frame ratio. The indoor shots look good, but the outdoor scenes suffer from the oversaturation of the greens of the grass and the blue-whites of the sky that characterizes home movies. It is also worth noting that, cinematographically, many of the indoor shots are cramped; characters practically stand on top of each other. They often have the tops of their heads and parts of their arms cut out of the frame. Sonically, the presentation fares well, though the dialogue is sometimes hard to discern during outdoor conversations.
Catastrophe Pictures' DVD is devoid of extras. In fact, it appears that this disc was not manufactured for commercial release. It was made using Apple's basic "iDVD" software, using one of Apple's templates and still bearing the Apple logo. Two full minutes of color bars precede the feature, as does a split-second flash of the feature's exact running time.
In the end, High Blood Art doesn't sit well. It falls prey to the same things that it wants to poke fun at in Curtiss, its main character. It is pretentious storytelling masquerading as high art. It seems, too, that the filmmakers believe so firmly in Curtiss' feelings about the diametric opposition of business and art that they haven't even made this film available for purchase.
Perhaps as one final, impenetrable joke, any time you insert High Blood Art into a computer's DVD drive, the disc identifies itself as South Pacific. I'll be the first to admit: I don't get it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Catastrophe Productions
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