“Velvet Buzzsaw”

A Satire

Amos Lassen

 I had not really thought about it before but as I watched the star-studded “satire of the art world”, I realized that cliché and satire do not always go together. “Velvet Buzzsaw” relies on the usual clichés about money and society taking priority over actual work. Dan Gilroy’s film is slick and glib but not a whole lot more. A gallery owner, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) tells critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) that money is easier to discuss than art. She’s correct and as she speaks we hear a note of despair in what she says but it is ambiguous. Get ready for one of the campiest movies you will ever see, this  is a  psychological sci-fi thriller about how greed in the art world can have fatal consequences.

Everyone is  beautifully dressed and living in spectacular contemporary L.A. mansions with the exception of Josephina(Zawe Ashton), junior Art Gallery agent who lives in an old apartment downtown. When one of her reclusive neighbors dies she discovers that his apartment is filled with extraordinary and disturbing art.

When her boss, Vandewalt who is also a famous critic (her soon to be temporary boyfriend decides this art is the work of a genius, they steal it all and present it to the world with the idea that they can make a tremendous amount of money.   However what they do not know is that  a supernatural force will take revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art.

Gyllenhaal is excellent as the outrageous critic who ditches his live-in-hot boyfriend to try his luck with Josephina and he is probably the only reason you might want to see the entire film.  It’s silly story but it show the vapidity of the art world. I also realized that I really have not missed Rene Russo a bit. I always thought of her more as a name than an address and we certainly see that here. , and gives us another (and too rare) opportunity to see Rene Russo back on our screens.

 “Velvet Buzzsaw” attempts to remind us of  the decadent, self-consciously chic art it parodies. When Josephina discovers abandoned paintings left behind by a deceased tenant, she unleashes a supernatural force that implicitly kills people for not believing in art for the right reasons, whatever those may be. “The sort of naïf art that’s celebrated by the rich, these paintings offer chillingly pastoral depictions of insanity and isolation that seem to be on the brink of tipping over into murder, and they steer Velvet Buzzsaw into an unexpectedly strange realm.”

Gallery owners, museums and dealers are all fighting for a piece of the deceased man’s work, despite his explicit instructions to destroy the paintings all upon his death. What we quickly discover is that there is a far more dangerous entity at play here that will seek to end all those that aim to profit from the artist’s work. Gilroy’s addition of camp is to make sure that that no one takes anything in the film too seriously. Like pieces of satire,  this is not something that will appeal to everyone, but I found the juxtaposition between the pseudo-intellectual art snobs and the senseless over-the-top gore to be a lot of fun to  watch, although it’s totally dense and ridiculous.

There a clear distinction made between the artists and those who profit from other peoples’ art, essentially claiming it as their own, with John Malkovich and Daveed Diggs playing artists showing their pieces in Haze’s gallery. The haunted paintings have a very different effect on these two compared to those who view the paintings as a commodity, rather than a piece of the artist’s soul. Perhaps “Velvet Buzzsaw” will keep people out of galleries and maybe it will make them think a bit more about the artist who created the pieces that they’re considering buying. Will class guilt work on comfortable audiences?

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