Sometimes it is so easy to get lost in talking about whether a movie as a whole is good or bad or whether it is worth watching. I think that we can lose so much valuable nuance by reducing our discussion of films to this context, and so today I want to do something a little different.
Netflix recently released Velvet Buzzsaw, a quirky supernatural slasher flick from director Dan Gilroy about a group of people who represent those who profit from the exploitation of art by literally being murdered by art that surrounds them. It’s not a perfect film, but I enjoyed it immensely and there were some elements of it that I absolutely loved. Given the ubiquity of Netflix, this is an opportunity to change the nature of criticism. I think the root of criticism should be about a discussion of films as art, diving into their merits far beyond whether or not you should watch them.
So, in the spirit of pure appreciation, I would rather talk simply about why this movie resonated with me so strongly without splitting hairs over the quality of its execution, without worrying about spoilers, and without worrying about whether or not I’m wasting your time and money by recommending a film you may not like.
And so, here are 5 things that I simply loved about Velvet Buzzsaw:
Warning: Spoilers ahead, so stop reading now and go watch the movie before reading on if you want that experience.
5. Neurotic Performances
I am always thrilled when actors can play with a role. Getting to see wonky performances from talented individuals as they explore their space without boundaries is unique. Velvet Buzzsaw has three performances that stand out specifically: Jake Gyllenhaal, John Malkovitch, and Toni Collette.
These performers approach their roles without shame with an almost Nicholas Cage lack of shame turning in pure entertainment gold. We’ve seen this side of John Malkovitch before and that is part of the reason why he is one of my favorite actors. I already also love both Toni Collette and Jake Gyllenhaal, with Toni Collette turning in one of my favorite performances for all of last year in Hereditary, and Velvet Buzzsaw brought out something deeply memorable from these phenomenal performers.
4. Tattoos Are Art
We have several cultural wars in the US as marginalized groups struggle for recognition and representation. Our society struggles with long debates over what is and is not art, leaving several industries fighting for validity. Video games, graphic novels, and even tattoos have to kick and scream to get recognized for what they really and truly are: Art. Plain and simple, all of these are creative endeavors that express important thoughts and ideas.
How explicitly does Velvet Buzzsaw acknowledge that tattoos are art? As mentioned before, the core plot of the film is about characters being murdered by the art around them. The final surviving character, Rhodora Haze (Played by Renee Russo), removes all of the art in her entire house after learning that the string of victims have all been murdered or otherwise killed by the art they are surrounded by.
At the last moment, when she is sitting alone after having removed every painting or sculpture from around her, we see that there is one piece of art that she forgot about. A tattoo on the back of her neck that was prominently featured as a part of her character. In those final moments, the tattoo comes to life, violently killing Rhodora. This act unifies tattoos with all of the other art in the film, clearly making a statement, and that statement is that these acts of expression are meaningful.
3. Visual Style
Director Dan Gilroy has filled the space of each frame with beautiful and powerful works of art. Compelling visual rustic colors, haunting symbols, and even stark modern sculpture. In a film about art, the art itself is used as a palette with entire styles of art used to decorate a frame the way others would use mere colors. The works of art that fill out the environment of Velvet Buzzsaw drew me in as much as the story itself.
2. The Art is the Victim
In so many similar movies that cut at the art world, we see the art itself as part of the problem. It gets definitively included with all of the things that are wrong with the world in which it is surrounded. However, in Velvet Buzzsaw the art itself is the victim. The art is beautiful, genuine, and engrossing while it is surrounded by people who do a disservice to the very concept of art.
That is profoundly important because it can be difficult to separate art itself from the disingenuous world and practices in which it is immersed. As an appreciator of the importance of communication, I value this aspect of Velvet Buzzsaw deeply. It means so much to see that the film clearly knows that the crimes of the main characters are horrible specifically because art is so essential to the human condition for sharing our humanity.
1. Art is Dangerous
The lasting message from the film is embodied clearly in the statement “all art is dangerous.” This statement is profound if not particularly new. It resonates deeply inside of us. Art inspires love, war, and revolution. It always speaks to something inside of us. Making this message the core of a cheesy slasher elevates it to something that reverberates inside of you if you are open to that powerful statement. Any film that has me walking away remembering how true this is has done something special for me.