My favourite news stories of 2019 was Maurizio Cattelan’s banana duct taped to the wall that sold for $120,000. Contemporary artists taking the piss are the reason I got into art history. Therefore, Velvet Buzzsaw seemed like a film made specifically for me. From Netflix, it boasts a ensemble cast as contemporary art professionals, concerned only with money and power. An aspiring gallerist discovers a treasure trove of paintings after her neighbour dies. Chaos ensues.
These paintings are admittedly very cool. The vengeful artist Vetril Dease (easily the most artistic/pretentious/villainous name ever) mimics actual haunted paintings like Bill Stoneham’s The Hands Resist Him that has reportedly caused accidental deaths, suicides and mental breakdowns. In other words, I’m trying to get my hands on that painting right now.
Low Brow Meets High Brow
While some of the kills and hauntings are somewhat gimmicky, I’d argue that this reflects a common understanding of the contemporary art world. There are elements of caricature and cheesiness but that makes it fun and accessible. If the film was overly reliant on deep thematic threads, it would feed into arty stereotypes.
Give Jake Gyllenhaal a round of applause for his parody of art critic, Jerry Saltz (follow his Instagram, trust me). Like an artistic Nicholas Cage, he’s eccentric and passionate with a crazy gaze. While the film can lack action in favour of dialogue, Gyllenhaal’s presence helps to break up stuffy conversations. For instance, a diatribe concerning the colour and artistic merit of a friends coffin delivered at their funeral.
Above all, the movie is fun. As fun as a film about the contemporary art market can be. Which is pretty dang fun, it turns out. Pretentious art spheres meeting campy, slasher inspired deaths can be inconsistent at worst. However, its mostly iconic.
If you are searching for something packed with meaning and symbolism, maybe check out something else on Netflix. But if you want to see Jake Gyllenhaal’s bare-naked ass then you can’t go wrong. Three and a half Cthulhus out of five.(3.5 / 5)