Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"Big Eyes": Tim Burton shows how male chauvinism used to take over art

Back in 2003, in a pre-interview for a “sales” job in life-insurance, the presenter said, “We give you the words.”  In these days before social media would preclude double lives, I still wondered what kind of person could live with this, being paid to pretend he was something he wasn’t and proselytize someone else’s content.  I don’t include acting in this.  But I do include pretending someone else’s work is yours.
Tim Burton (“Big Fish”, 2003) takes this on, somewhat, in his art satire “Big Eyes”. Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) is the flim-flam marketer, pretending to be the artist who really painted his wife’s (Margaret, played by Amy Adams) works, all comical faces with pancake eyes.  The only psychological justification seems to be old-fashioned sexism: meeting her, after he left first husband in 1958, it made perfect sense to him that he could possess his bride’s work as his own if he “protected” her and she could perhaps give him progeny.  To me, it’s hard to believe that such an arrangement could maintain sexual excitement, let alone any integrity.  But the world then was not as individualistic as now. 

The film is really quite funny, as Walter’s scheme descends into the picture, a façade disguised by their upper income lifestyle in the California wine country.  Then, as so often with Burton, it ceases to be funny – until the final courtroom climax in Hawaii, where the script makes a useful distinction between libel and slander, and then gives both husband and wife a “laboratory examination”.

Some of the background history is interesting -- like the clips of the construction of the New York Worlds Fair in 1964 in Flushing, near what is now CitiField for the Mets. I actually visited the fair in the summer of 1965 with college friends.  The film also shows an amusing Perry Mason excerpt. 
The official site is here. (The Weinstein Company).

The concept of Walter reminds me of the lead character "Gentle" in Clive Barker's huge fantasy novel "Imajica" (1991) because Gentle is an art forger (see Book reviews, March 28, 2006).  The film has yet to be made.  
I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA before a moderate evening crowd, but the auditorium was very cold. 

Update:  July 19, 2017

Jeffrey Tucker of the Foundation of Economic Education discusses the movie from the viewpoint of copyright, intellectual property, and creativity here.   Electronic Frontier Foundation would agree with him. 

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