USA – 9 January 2009 (Palm Springs International Film Festival)
(Untitled) is a sharp satire on the art world that asks questions about what separates commercial art from art that is more cutting edge or avant garde or some other French words. Does the fact that a large number of people like something make it automatically something to look down on? Put a pin in that idea and we’ll get back to it in a minute.
(Untitled) is the story of two brothers, both of them toiling in the art scene in New York City. Adrian Jacobs (Adam Goldberg) is a struggling musician, his brother Josh (Eion Bailey) is a successful painter. Josh’s paintings look like colorful earthbound nebulae, with nipples. They are bright, cheery, and non-threatening. Perfect for your doctors office or hotel chain, and that’s mostly who he sells them to.
Adrian, on the other hand, is a brooding artiste who composes music that is played by pouncing around on piano keys, kicking buckets, dropping chains, and screeching into a clarinet. John Cage-like stuff. Adrian seems to secretly long for the recognition that his brother gets, but he admits “Once you move away from tonality and harmony the audience gets very small.” A critic describes Adrian’s music as having “no relation to the way human beings make sense of sound.” I think we’re supposed to find this critic pompous, but it’s hard to disagree with him.
Adrian and his “band” have a sparsely attended gig that Josh comes to with a date. Her name is Madeleine (Marley Shelton), she owns an art gallery and sells his paintings. The problem is that even though Josh’s paintings are popular and keep her in business she sells them out of her back room, reserving the front room for the less commercial art that she prefers. Stuff like the work of Ray Barko, a madman who makes art by stuffing animals and putting them in *ahem* unusual positions.
Madeleine seems to be the only person who really connects with Adrian’s music, and soon she and Adrian connect, much to Josh’s dismay. Nobody in this tale is really getting what they want. Josh knows that his paintings are paying Madeleine’s bills, but she won’t give him a proper show at her gallery. Then when he finds out about her and Adrian that’s just too much for him.
Then there’s the nouveau riche art collector who thinks that the mark of quality art is how much it confuses him. He falls for Adrian’s clarinet player, who is only given the name of The Clarinet, but she is devoted to Adrian even though she can’t get him to pay any attention to her. She is played by the delightful British actress Lucy Punch. Her character is über adorable. She always seems to have something stuck in her teeth. Nobody is really getting what they want and they all just kind of circle around each other until the movie reaches a Woody Allen kind of ending.
Remember earlier when I told you to put a pin in a thought? Well, turns out you’ve just created a piece of art that can be sold for thousands of dollars. Madeleine discovers a fabulous new artist named Monroe who does exactly that, as you can see from the above screenshot from the movie. Some of his other “art” consists of a lightbulb going on and off and a doorstopper. Stopping a door. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it happens in the art world all the time.
So what is the purpose of art? Is it to enjoy? To challenge us? Is it what makes us human? Then there’s the commercialism question that I raised earlier. As Adrian at one point asks: “Is the marketplace the measure of our culture?” Who decides what’s good and what isn’t? Critics, buyers, audiences? Was Thomas Kinkade “bad” because he liked to paint shiny lighthouses? How is that worse than Marcel Duchamp taking a urinal manufactured by someone else, slapping his name on it, and calling it “found art?”
(Untitled) doesn’t answer all these questions, not that you really want it to, but it’s funny and smart. I’ve already mentioned how fun Lucy Punch is. Adam Goldberg is also good here as the perpetually perplexed Adrian. He seems befuddled by Madeleine’s taste in art, but his own music is just as ridiculous.
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
Of course that’s my opinion, or as Adrian says, “It’s not my opinion, it’s my judgement.” My judgement is that (Untitled) deserves a…
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(Untitled) is a filose, pseudoreformatory, contact of a movie! Adam Goldberg is ruined!!!
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