Judge Clark Douglas thinks the spaces between these words say so much about modern society.
Everyone's got an opinion.
Very recently, I had the opportunity to review a film entitled Boogie Woogie, a satire of the modern art world. In that review I wrote that it "too often deflates its own savagery with overstated clumsiness," and that despite the fact that filmmakers were, "well-versed in the details of this world, the satire is simply too broad and simplistic to make an impact. We've seen this sort of thing before too many times, and pretensions are better deflated with a subtle pin than with a sledgehammer." I do not quote myself for the purposes of self-promotion, but rather because I was surprised to discover that (Untitled) is precisely the sort of film that Boogie Woogie should have been. It gets everything right that film got wrong, actually using that subtle pin and making precise jabs that actually resonate.
The central character is a grumpy fellow named Adrian Jacobs (Adam Goldberg, Deja Vu), a struggling musician who writes challenging, atonal works. Well, a few people might call them challenging, atonal works anyway. Most people would probably only hear a collection of random noises produced by kicked buckets, crumpled paper, popped bubble wrap, duck call devices, clarinet squawks, and random piano banging. Adrian's performances attract very small crowds, and at least a portion of that crowd will generally walk away early on.
Adrian's brother Josh (Eion Bailey, Band of Brothers) has had considerably more success in his profession, painting dreamy collages of color with suspicious little ovals scattered around throughout them. He recently sold a painting for upwards of $10,000. His work is represented and sold by Madeline Gray (Marley Shelton, Grindhouse), a lover of challenging art of all sorts. She attends one of Adrian's concerts, and almost instantly falls in love with the abrasive music. Adrian responds to her compliments with his customary hostility, but nonetheless agrees to play at one of her upcoming galleries.
The gallery spotlights the art of a man named Ray Barko (Vinnie Jones, X-Men: The Last Stand), who stuffs dead animals, warps them into unusual positions, adds some accessories (a bobcat is holding a stapler, for instance) and—voila, art. Adrian regards this artwork with intense derision, quietly insisting that it's nothing more than dead animals in odd positions without any real meaning. Madeline finds it puzzling that Adrian can write such difficult music and find other experimental art so empty, but that's Adrian for you.
(Untitled) offers a smart, witty but occasionally sympathetic look at the highbrown denizens of the modern art world, studying their valiant efforts to find meaning in the meaningless (or is it?) and their efforts to earn the respect of others. There are few words that can get you instantly dismissed in this world like, "Yes, but is it art?" To suggest that the emperor has no clothes is the sort of thing that gets one labeled a tasteless barbarian; a label so feared that many of the characters who populate this film have seemingly made a hobby of finding meaning in the meaningless. Despite this, the film is by no means suggesting that the entirety of the modern art world is an uninspired waste of time. It's that elusive, exasperating mission of separating the pointless from the profound that plagues these characters.
The film doesn't feature a big-name cast like Boogie Woogie, but the players are all capable and perform their roles with precision. This is one of the best performances I've seen from Adam Goldberg, as the actor taps into a pool of embittered loathing and rides that note to immensely amusing effect. However, the performance is so good because Goldberg plays the role with genuine feeling, never allowing the character to turn into a typical caricature of a cranky artist. Lucy Punch is subtly entertaining as Goldberg's clarinet player, who just kind of rolls with whatever Goldberg throws at her. Vinnie Jones and Zack Orth are pitch-perfect as a pretentious artist and an equally pretentious art collector, while Marley Shelton skillfully depicts a quiet soullessness resting beneath her friendly exterior.
The DVD transfer gets the job done nicely, offering strong detail throughout. Darker scenes are just a tad murky at times, but not enough to really complain about. Flesh tones are warm and natural. Audio is strong, with the striking score (written by modernist composer David Lang) getting a particularly good mix. There are no extras of any sort included on the disc.
It's nice to see a satire demonstrate such skillful restraint for a change. If you're in the mood for a smart, sensitive comedy that rarely misses a beat, give (Untitled) a watch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Screen Media
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