Entertainment Magazine

In the Gallery

Posted on the 20 May 2024 by Sjhoneywell
Film: Velvet Buzzsaw
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire! In the Gallery

It’s not easy to interact with the art world as an average person. So much of the art world is an evident scam. Even if the entire tax dodge may or may not be reality (and there’s some evidence that the “buy a piece of art, have it appraised, donate it for a tax write-off” scam isn’t that easy or that common), wealthy art collectors do frequently buy art, talk it up to others, and hope that the artist catches on. At the same time, there is truly vital, important art in the world. The works of Ai Weiwei, Banksy, the recent portrait of King Charles by Jonathan Yeo, and more are important and make serious commentary on the world around us. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the 2010 film Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s this world we’re going to dive into with Velvet Buzzsaw, a film that decides the art world needed a horror movie.

Before we get going, it’s worth saying that Velvet Buzzsaw is from the heart of the “NetFlix is doing the best work” period, and because of this, could get pretty much anyone they wanted for any projects. Among the cast are Rene Russo, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Malkovich, and Toni Collette.

Before we’re going to be made aware that this is a horror movie, we need to be introduced to the art world and the major players. Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal) is an influential art critic attending an exhibition with his friend Josephina (Zawe Ashton). Josephina works for Rhodora Haze (Russo), who was once in a punk band called Velvet Buzzsaw. Josephina is desperate to be doing more in the art world than just working for Rhodora, though, and she gets her break when she discovers a dead man in her apartment building.

That dead man turns out to be Vetril Dease. It turns out Dease was an undiscovered master and his apartment is filled with disturbing art. Seeing this as her chance to discover someone new, Josephina runs off with the art and uses this as a way to advance her position in the art world. The works of Vetril Dease suddenly become the newest thing in the art community, capturing the attention of museum curator Gretchen (Collette); artist fallen on hard times, Piers (Malkovich), and a new artist Damrish (Daveed Diggs).

Now, since this is a horror movie, you have to know that something is going to be going on with the paintings, right? And of course, there is. To keep things scarce, Rhodora orders one of her workers (Billy Magnussen) to take a collection of Dease’s work and put it in storage; after all, nothing drives up prices like scarcity. But on the way, the pictures start to move, and Bryson ends up having an accident and eventually, being pulled into a painting on the wall of an abandoned gas station.

It soon becomes evident that the paintings are taking some sort of revenge on anyone who is suddenly connected with them. One of Rhodora’s rivals (Tom Sturridge) is killed by being hung by his scarf, thanks to a hand that appears out of nowhere. Investigation into the life of Vetril Dease reveals that he suffered terrible abuse as a child, likely murdered his father, and was sent to an institution where experiments were run on him. It is also discovered that he literally infused his own blood into his artwork and that he left instructions for his art to be destroyed upon his death.

Deaths connected to the Dease paintings start to mount, and over and over people are killed not specifically by the Dease paintings but by other works of art. However, because of the connections the victims have to the Dease works, interest in his posthumous exhibitions (and naturally the prices of his works) start to spike.

What we have in Velvet Buzzsaw, in addition to a horror movie, is a metacommentary on the art world. Everything here is essentially manufactured. The interest in the dead artist, in large part because of the scarcity of his works, is manufactured. Morf Vandewalt makes or breaks artists on his word, sometimes giving out negative reviews on behalf of someone else despite his own actual opinion because he can. New artists are promoted for one reason or another, panned for one reason or another, and all of it in service and pursuit not merely of fame and influence, but of money—stack and stacks of money.

It should come as no surprise that Velvet Buzzsaw is stylish, because that is the world it is trying to replicate. It’s also mildly funny in places. One of the running jokes is that Coco (Natalia Dyer), fired initially by Rhodora, ends up working for people who she then finds horribly killed. Of the bodies to actually be discovered, it’s Coco who finds most of them.

But is it any good? Velvet Buzzsaw is better than its lackluster reputation, but a lot of that is the stellar cast and the hint of wit behind the plot. It’s not as clever as it thinks it is, though, and not as clever as it wants to be. The deaths, with one exception, are fairly tame, and the deaths, with a different exception or two, aren’t that original. So what we’re left with is, in essence, a film that has become what it parodies—it’s dumber and less original than it purports itself to be, and its own mediocrity serves both as a review of the world it is lampooning and of itself.

Why to watch Velvet Buzzsaw: The art world desperately needed to be taken down a peg.
Why not to watch: It’s less original than it wants to be.

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