Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Big Eyes

Year 8, Day 264 - 9/2016 - Movie #2,456    

BEFORE: Christoph Waltz carries over from "Spectre", and just like that, I'm back on art.  Not just art, but the confluence of art and deception, which brings to mind recent films, both "The Forger" and "Woman in Gold", of course "F For Fake", and tangentially "Mr. Turner" as well.  After tonight I'm on break for about 10 days, because the next link will take me directly into October's Halloween chain.  But this break comes right at the start of the new TV season, so I've got plenty of things to watch to occupy my time.  I sped through the three-hour Emmys telecast last night, plus about three nights ago I watched the pilot episode of "Mad Men".  I know, I'm about 9 years late for that party, but the first 5 episodes are suddenly available On Demand, so I'll watch the first 5 eps this week and then wait for more.  

The good news is that I got my watchlist down to 103 films, that's the smallest it's ever been, and I'm darn close to breaking 100, but of course taking 10 days off is going to be a step backwards, because I've got a second list next to the first list, containing about 12 films currently airing that I want to add.  So I could easily be back up at 113 or 115 by the time October 1 rolls around, and I can begin chipping away at it again. 

THE PLOT: A drama about the awakening of painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.  

AFTER: While it's easy to reference those other films about forged or stolen paintings, I want to tie together another thread, and link this film to "The Danish Girl" and "Brooklyn" while I'm at it.  Because the key to this story similarly seems to be gender politics, getting to the heart of what it meant to be a man or a woman in the past.  (And with "The Danish Girl" set in the 1930s, "Brooklyn" in the 1950s and "Big Eyes" in the 1960s and 70s, there's something of a progression.)  

We live in interesting times, that's for sure.  We're on the cusp of possibly electing the first female president, (and to think just 100 years ago, women couldn't even VOTE for President in the U.S.)  But for thousands of years the patriarchy was in place, and the thought of a woman artist (or soldier, or astronaut, or CEO) was somewhere between ridiculous and impossible.  Unfeasible, let's say.  Nurses, bookkeepers, showgirls, fine - maybe the occasional pilot if she was Amelia Earhart.  But it seems nearly everyone was stuck when it came to considering what women could do.  Why was it such a big mental leap from a woman running a home to, say, running a business?  Women could shop at a grocery store but not manage one?  I don't get it.  

I knew a little bit about the Keane art before watching this film - when I spent a day in San Francisco about four years ago (after a failed attempt to visit Skywalker Ranch), the first place I went was the ILM office at the Presidio.  (Priorities...)  The second place I went, after freeing myself from an insane cab driver who probably would have driven me all over the city if I wanted, was the Palace of Fine Arts, which is seen in this film.  The third place I randomly walked by was the Keane Gallery.  Of course, I was familiar with the "big eye" or "sad eye" paintings, who isn't?  Plus my boss had poked fun at this style of art several times in his films.  But I didn't really know the story behind the art, and the artists, until a couple of years later. 

You look up Walter Keane on Wikipedia now, and the first sentence reads "He was an American plagiarist..." so the verdict is really in, and history will regard him for the scam artist that he was.  The film calls into question whether he in fact had any artistic ability at all - hey, it even took his wife a few years to realize that although he had many paintings to bring to galleries, she had never seen him put a brush to a canvas.  Of course, "his" paintings didn't really sell until he met Margaret, his second wife, and suddenly his art style completely changed, and his new paintings looked an awful lot like the ones his wife painted before they were married, with the sad orphans with the saucer-like eyes.  

Sure, Picasso had his blue period and his red period and then made everything out of cubes for a while, but the simplest explanation is the best - one person made the paintings, the other one took the credit.  Now, there could be many reasons for this - sometimes one person is just much more outgoing than the other, or has more sales experience in relating to the customers.  I know it took me a few years to be able to talk to customers at our booth at Comic-Con, and most of the time I'll defer to my more outgoing boss when it comes to conversation, because the fans come there to talk to him anyway.  I much prefer the "soft sell" approach, because I don't like to feel I'm bothering customers, but I still realize that engaging people more does sell more product.  It's just harder for me to do.  

And Margaret Keane seems like a nice person, who probably deferred to her husband, who was more than happy to steamroll over her if it meant making some sales.  And sales were made, the Keane art started selling for thousands of dollars, and collectively they started making millions, which then of course reinforced the idea that maybe they were doing something right, which further encouraged her to not make any waves.  Besides, there just didn't seem to be a market for "lady art", so why not just let things be?  

Eventually, after a few too many lies, Margaret did get the stones to leave Walter, moving to Hawaii with her daughter, but he tracked her down, and demanded more paintings of despondent waifs before she could be free.  So she sued him for ownership of the entire artistic endeavor, leading to one of the more absurd trials in the history of the U.S. court system.  

However, we never really get at the three main questions raised by Keane art, which are: 1) Why kids with big eyes?  2) No, I mean it, why do you keep painting these kids with big eyes?  and 3) Seriously, what the frick is up with all these big-eyed orphans?   And more importantly, WHY did people suddenly find them popular in the late 1960's?  I get that they caught on like a viral fad, but WHY?  Did people get some form of relief by looking at these pathetic kids, thinking, "Wow, my life could be so much worse, I could be a sad orphan who looks like a bug-eyed alien!"??  

I'm reminded of "Ed Wood", also directed by Tim Burton, which also depicted the "bad" films of a hack director, but at the same time implied that they caught on with some people, so somehow these bad films could also be regarded as "good" in some circles, but similarly, there was zero explanation of the mechanics of all of that.  What was it, exactly, about "Glen or Glenda" or "Plan 8 From Outer Space" that appealed to some people - if you can't explain that, then it feels like something essential is missing, and the same goes for the Keane art.  Just a person or two, gazing at some big eye art, maybe mentioning what it is that made them so interesting, that's all I ask for.  If you can't have any character finish the sentence, "I like this painting because..." then why are you making a movie about it?

Also starring Amy Adams (last seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Danny Huston (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Krysten Ritter (last seen in "Someone Like You..."), Jason Schwartzman (last seen in "Moonrise Kingdom"), Terence Stamp (last seen in "The Adjustment Bureau"), Jon Polito (last heard in "Batman: Year One"), Madeleine Arthur, Delaney Raye, James Saito, Guido Furlani, 

RATING: 6 out of 10 Jehovah's witnesses

No comments:

Post a Comment