A film about art often triggers a profound apathy in many, where the thought of watching a tortured (and usually highly-privileged) ‘artiste’ navigate life is nothing more than an eye-roll fest. We’re here, however, to show you that not every film about art is itself an experimental, art-house production realised in a warehouse-come-arcane-cinema in East London.
Here are 5 interesting films about art to binge-watch in lockdown.
The costumes, colours and sensual visuals are reason enough to watch this beautiful biopic about one of the 20th century’s most important female painters. Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina perfectly capture the profundity of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s tumultuous relationship. Hayek masters Kahlo’s unfettered sexuality and strength in living with her devastating injury. If the unparalleled personalities of these painters don’t tempt you, then watch it for the delicate balance between epic, mind-boggling shots and intimate first-person camerawork.
2. The Danish Girl
Another biographical and romantic film starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander as Danish painters, Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Born Elinar Wegener, Lili Elbe’s (Redmayne) existential epiphany comes when his wife asks him to stand in for a female model running late, so she can continue with her painting. While posing, Elinar’s fragile sense of identity is cemented, and they immediately begin experimenting with life as a transgender woman. Based loosely on true events and the 2000 book of the same name by David Ebershoff, the film explores the gender awakening of one of the first-known patients to receive sexual reassignment surgery.
3. Velvet Buzzsaw
The American satirical horror film follows Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal), the most respected and feared art critic in LA, who precariously balances on the edge of sanity. Morf’s scathing reviews can make or break the careers of emerging artists, as the art world follows his opinion like an indoctrinated cult. When Josephina (Zawe Ashton), however, discovers the cadaver of artist, Vetril Dease, she immediately snoops around his apartment (as you do) to find potentially valuable, yet half-burnt paintings. What ensues is a gory series of suspicious deaths as we slowly find out the truth behind Dease’s tainted tableaux…
4. Downtown 81
A rare and intimate insight into the life of 1980s enfant terrible, Jean-Michel Basquiat, as he embarks on his legendary artistic career. The film was shot in December 1980, but was swiftly abandoned due to lack of financial support. Revived by Glenn O’Brien in 1999, the film follows Basquiat as he manoeuvres amongst the streets of New York, looking for potential clients to buy his Neo-Expressionist masterpieces.
5. Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present
Marina Abramović challenges the boundary between artist and audience in this extended performance film. Although this is the most ‘arty’ of the films about art on this list, Abramović is a contemporary giant, so hear me out. The Artist is Present examines Abramović’s claim that increasing the length of a performance beyond expectations can alter our perceptions of time and, in turn, create a more profound experience. Seated at a wooden table across from an empty chair, viewers are invited to take a seat opposite and lock eyes with the artist. Taking place in complete silence, many participants are moved to tears by Abramović’s sagacious stare. This social experiment took place over three months, where the artist spent eight hours a day seated a metre away (sound familiar?) from the still gaze of over one thousand strangers.