Velvet Buzzsaw

Jake Gyllenhaal and Nitya Vidyasagar play in the 2019 film "Velvet Buzzsaw" directed by Dan Gilroy. 

In this review, Cole reviews a movie about art reviewers, gets pretentious and talks in the third person. Welcome to this week’s review of “Velvet Buzzsaw.”

“Velvet Buzzsaw” is a Netflix original that is perfect to review: It is new, it is divisive — as I’ve heard from several people that it was garbage and from others that it was great — and it is also free for me to watch since my parents have me on their Netflix account.

Before watching this, I was really curious as to why some people liked it and some hated it. It wasn’t that I hadn’t experienced this before, but usually it was a clear split between stupid people liking something and smart people disliking it. Smart and stupid people liked this movie, and smart and stupid people disliked it as well. Where is this divide? Let’s take a look at the premise to find out more.

Our story follows a circle of high caliber art world elites — art dealers, art critics, art creators — and all of them have one major thing in common: they’re all greedy. I mean, they’re all awful people for a lot of other reasons, but the one that really gets framed properly in the film is their greed.

As rich art people often are portrayed, our cast of pretentious pricks is introduced to us as bickering and fussing about sales and emotionally evocative line forms. Their lives change when one of them discovers a stockpile of magnificently powerful paintings in her newly-deceased neighbor’s room. Once these paintings begin to sell, however, their group quickly realizes there are supernatural and lethal consequences to be reaped when dealing with these works.

This film is a satire on the high-speed art world that looks to expose some of the lesser-touched-on vices of the human species, or at least expose some different sides of them. The most important critique I have of this movie is that it isn’t super accessible. The content of its scenes is distant, and it is tough for people to get close enough to appreciate a lot of the choices in the film. This isn’t the only issue I had with “Velvet Buzzsaw,” but I want to bring it up now because if this isn’t recognizable, then it gets very hard to examine the rest of the film.

Trying to point out fault in an institution, environment or group is not an uncommon function that movies have fulfilled over the years. Often, these movies are made for an audience that lies outside of the group that they are criticizing. The reason there isn’t any problem with those films is because their audience — that is, most people — have a well-established familiarity with the subject.

What I believe is the issue with “Velvet Buzzsaw” taking on the world of high-stakes art consumption and appraisal is not that only a small portion of people are involved in that environment — it’s that very few people are familiar with it or care about it at all. What I’m saying is not that people don’t care about art, what I’m saying is that I never thought about art critics, art dealers or museum curators almost at all before watching “Velvet Buzzsaw,” and I definitely didn’t think that the culture built around those people was awful and full of problems. I’m sure it is, and I’m sure the greed and low moral standards pointed out in the movie exist in that industry — as they do in every industry — but it exists totally outside of my imagination or realm of influence.

That doesn’t make the movie bad, but art should be accessible. If a film is less accessible to a large portion of the population, that lowers its quality, even if it is still powerful to the few that can completely appreciate it. There are exceptions to this, but telling the story of the wrongs of the fantastically expensive fine art world is not one of them.

Most of the film is put together well. Visually, the film is spot on. For a movie about art, it does in fact look incredibly interesting, refined and well composed. The costumes and sets all complement and give a lot to the emotional content of the scenes and the depth of the characters, and the cinematography sneaks in a bundle of interesting shots and angles that feel cohesive and smooth.

The acting is on par with most major films, but the directing shows some weaknesses.

It took me a little bit to zero in on exactly what put me off about some of the moments in the film. An actor would say a line, and I would think, “That’s a dumb line.” But as it happened more often, I realized that most of the lines made sense but they were being delivered in a way that didn’t make sense for the piece of dialogue or the scene. I wrote it off as bad acting but most of the actors in this movie are not bad actors. Jake Gyllenhaal and John Malkovich know how to deliver a line — this problem stems from the director.

Dan Gilroy, who wrote and directed “Velvet Buzzsaw,” seems to have found a bit of a weak spot in dialogue, as many of the lines spoken between characters are confusing and seem to have no point. This is partially to illustrate the disparity between the conceited way that high-class socialites speak and how normal people who aren’t trying to show off how smart we are all the time speak, but sometimes the line between intentional commentary and unintentional messy dialogue gets awfully fuzzy. Especially when the characters are forced to break their stuck-up facade and their speech doesn’t get any better.

Ultimately, “Velvet Buzzsaw” is an ambitious attempt to blend satire and horror into an interesting, visually stunning and original story. People with a closer proximity to art discussion and art in general will probably find more enjoyment in this film, but even audiences who only know how to say “modern art” with a scowl will still find something interesting in this colorful critique of the criminally weird and wealthy. 6/10

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