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Sunday, February 6, 2011

High Art

When I first saw this movie during the beginning of my independent/arthouse/foreign movies phase, I did not get it at all --- lesbianism, drug use, New York City artists' circle, etc., all of which went way over my head then.

Now I get it. But one must admit that Lisa Cholodenko was very subtle throughout the film: jokes about the artsy photography magazine's editors, for example, and the sexual tension among three women. As a first-time feature film director, she made quite a splash with this debut. It was beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. Ally Sheedy and Patricia Clarkson were particularly warmly received by critics.

Yet, despite the unusual restraint and delicacy she showed in nearly the entire movie, Cholodenko couldn't help herself and threw in a melodramatic ending. Over a decade later, she had the same difficulty in wrapping up a relatively complicated and ambiguous story, and resorted to a simplistic and unsatisfying ending in "The Kids are All Right."

There is a huge amount of drug use depicted in the movie, as the main character was loosely based on the actual photographer Nan Goldin. Nevertheless, in the end the filmmaker made her stand very clear --- Drug abuse is bad for you. Stay in school, kids! Odd, isn't it, that American movies are nearly always compelled to make their moral position on this issue newly-polished crystal clear, just in case some impressionable youths come out of theaters with the mistaken notion that drug abuse is cool. Even a goofy loser comedy like "Pineapple express" and an indie movie about decadent New York art scenes like "High Art" could not escape the obligation to reiterate mainstream American values.

--- Not that I don't feel obligated to make the same disclaimer myself: Stay in school and don't do drugs, kids.

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