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  Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus Say Cheese
Year: 2006
Director: Steven Shainberg
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr, Ty Burrell, Harris Yulin, Jane Alexander, Emmy Clarke, Genevieve McCarthy, Boris McGiver, Marceline Hugot, Mary Duffy, Emily Bergl, Lynn-Marie Stetson, Gwendolyn Bucci, Christina Rouner, Matt Servitto
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman) is on a bus travelling to a naturist colony where she hopes to find some excellent subjects for her new photography career. When she arrives there, she is admitted and meets with the heads of the camp who welcome her but advise her if she wants to take pictures there she has two rules to abide by: no erections, and she must be nude herself. As Diane agrees to this, she asks to be left alone for a while so she can adjust, and as the female leader is leaving she notices the locket Diane is wearing which contains a lock of hair. Now on her own, she starts to undress but memories of where the lock came from begin to surface...

Diane Arbus is one of the most celebrated photographers of her era, but this film, as the title suggests, is no straight biopic. There may be characters with names identical to real life counterparts, but we are not treated to an in depth examination of Arbus's existence, merely a snapshot, if you will, inspired by her preferred subject matter of the odd, the unusual, the striking without necessarily being beautiful. This means the story takes the form of a flashback to a period in her life which never happened, but aims to find some kind of truth in this invention, to nail down precisely what it was that made her art so memorable.

As it is, this turns out to be as easy as nailing down smoke in the hands of director Steven Shainberg and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson, which is strange in itself as you might have anticipated this kind of fantasy would be concrete in its concerns. What we actually get are all the clich├ęs of the nineteen-fifties repressed housewife discovering her inner strength type of drama wrapped up in a quirky little package where Diane's new upstairs neighbour is one of the interesting folk the real Diane would have loved to photograph. Kidman doesn't look much like her inspiration, and I'm not sure if she acts much like her either which adds further a layer of unreality to the proceedings.

Fair enough, though, how many biopics stick resolutely to the facts? Famously Cary Grant starred in Night and Day about Cole Porter which featured the barest minimum about Porter's life other than he was a successful songwriter, and that went down fine with audiences of the time, so why should Shainberg's efforts be any the less welcomed? Perhaps because the manner in which the plot plays out is not only more conventional than it wishes to appear, but that it does get a bit, well, silly. The new neighbour is Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jr), a man based on reality like the Arbus character, who initially appears under a mask until we find out why - something to do with the drains being blocked with hair, maybe?

That's right, Lionel is covered in the stuff, which when he makes his big reveal, something treated as if Diane was about to encounter a terrible monster for all the horror movie creeping about she does, is intended to make him look like Jean Cocteau's Beast, but really, as many have pointed out, more closely resembles Chewbacca from Star Wars in the minds of most people. No, Downey doesn't do the famed growl, as we're meant to mark the contrast between his mellifluous voice and his animal-like appearance, but it does render the sexual tension somewhat daft. It does not do itself any favours in presenting these goings-on in the iciest manner possible, as if taking Kidman's porcelain fragiity too much to heart so that you want someone to crack a joke simply to break the oppressive atmosphere. That's not to mention the inevitable shaving scene, which coupled with the in-the-movies ominous cough that Lionel develops means we're being prompted towards poignancy that never really takes. Interesting, but both too weird and not weird enough. Music by Carter Burwell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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