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November 22nd, 2006 James Walling | Movie Reviews & Stories
 

Tenacious D Vs. Diane Arbus

Two extremes of filmmaking, the inane and arcane, leave little room for the average viewer.

     
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Jack Black's satirical rock opera and Steven Shainberg's (Secretary) fanciful homage to the late photographer Diane Arbus are so utterly divergent, so contrary in style and content, that they present a clash of genres, even of audience types. It's the giggling social misfit who fancies him- or herself championed (or at least entertained) by Black's juvenile antics vs. the art-house hipster, willing to endure the most turgid and impenetrable nonsense just to appear "tuned in" to the subtleties of high art.

In Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus—a bizarre film that rests on the movie spectrum somewhere between a biopic and a dark fairy tale—Nicole Kidman struggles courageously against the forces of pretension and obfuscation (namely, Shainberg's self-indulgent directing and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson's indescribably abstruse script). The film opens with a disclaimer that informs the audience that Fur is merely a tribute to Arbus, inspired by her life and meant to elucidate the inner landscape of the photographer's creative process. This cute confession does little to make up for the egregious and erroneous liberties taken with the facts of Arbus' life story. The film portrays her as a meek housewife and untrained photographer who comes into her own via a love affair with a melancholy man (Robert Downey Jr.) stricken with hypertrichosis (excessive hair growth) who has connections with dozens of carnies, little people, transvestites and drug addicts. The idea that Arbus stumbled across her talent accidentally only after coming to terms with her inner freak is as ill-informed as it is ridiculous (her pictures appeared in advertisements in Glamour and Vogue long before she gravitated to the bizarre). The irony is that the film was inspired by Patricia Bosworth's biography of Arbus, the one book best equipped to refute Fur's literal and metaphorical insinuations.

To turn in an entirely different, if no less pointless, direction, Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny, directed by Liam Lynch (of Sifl & Olly fame), tells the tale of Jack Black and Kyle Gass as they form and promote their laughably bad rock band. The action begins with the credit sequence—featuring an animated Black and Gass rocketing about, powered by their own flatulence—and quickly devolves into a bong-fueled musical. The problems arise in the execution. Even if the subject matter sounds appealing (and how can it?), the music is as repetitive and obnoxious as a broken record, and the jokes are just plain lame. Black's fever-pitch intensity never lets up, which has the effect of a sustained scream or an endless exhalation. Gass' performance has all the charisma of a wet rag energized, as it were, by Domino's Pizza and hallucinogens.

High art pitted against shameless camp is a contest that tests the maxim, "For those who believe in miracles, no proof is necessary; to those who do not, none is possible." There will undoubtedly be legions of fans who will skip off elatedly to giggle and coo along with Black and Gass without paying a moment's thought to the film's quality. Correspondingly, even a film as pathetically incomprehensible as Fur will surely have its fair share of impassioned defenders, aspiring aesthetes without a clue about how great art is made or why people make it. The remaining masses—hopefully the vast majority of moviegoers—will probably boggle at the imperfections in both of these films, if they make the mistake of seeing them at all.


Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus: Cinema 21. Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny: Broadway, St. Johns Twin Cinema-Pub, Lloyd Cinema, Division, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cornelius, Evergreen, Hilltop, Movies on TV, Sandy, Tigard, Wilsonville, Cinema 99.
 
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