Since it’s never too early to start the critical CPR…
I have a feeling that Terry Zwigoff’s latest, from a script by Ghost World co-author Dan Clowes, is going to get knuckled down on pretty hard by the critics–and the robust 4.5/ 10 score it’s throwing down at imdb would seem to imply it’s not been much of a crowd-pleaser to date. I’m willing to grant that the excercise is a little, as they say, “all over the place”– it’s a staggeringly odd movie, but never haphazard enough to comfortably write off. And I found the whole thing very, very moving–Zwigoff makes the medium’s best vitriol-saccherine cocktail going–in a way that makes the inevitable point-by-point complaints “Oh, but so-and-so wasn’t very well developed, don’t you think?” seem like quibbles.
Part of this has to do with the way the camera, surrogate for the gawk of Max Minghella’s virginal Freshman, locks onto Sophia Myles–I haven’t seen a woman looked at so lovingly in a movie for a very long time; the Lubitsch definition of cinema–“Doing pretty things to pretty women”–is here steadfastly adhered to. What I like even better, though, is seeing an American movie that’s so deadly serious about art in a palpable, passionate way. In this respect Art School Confidential could make a fine double feature with Henry Fool–it’s every bit as eccentic and antique in its insistent belief in those stirring ideas of Greatness that seem to belong to another century.
Adapted by Clowes (whose alma mater, Pratt, is the clear model for the film’s outer-borough ‘Strathmore’) from a devastatingly funny, depressingly bullseye filler strip written for a 1991 issue of his comic “Eightball,” Art School is an odd amalgamation of thriller (the film, implicitly and explicity, references Strangers on a Train and Lang’s Scarlet Street) and aged-but-not-expired satire (though ostensibly contemporary, a handful of Soho scenes feel distinctly Downtown 81, and the production design by fresh-from-the-Rent -set Howard Cummings presents a distinctly pre-gentrification cityscape), in which a wholly detestable world is redeemed only through a taste for beauty. Try as I may, I can find little to protest in that.