Quote from Velvet Buzzsaw by Morf Vandewalt : “Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining.”
I’m not going to lie I watched this movie originally because of Jake Gyllenhaal. He has become the actor I like to watch whether it be a comedy or drama, light or dark, realistic or surreal. This is the one of the few times I had no solid basis of what this movie was about, other for the fact it had him in it. I had no idea it was a horror movie because let’s be honest, the red lettering could also be spray paint. In the opening scene of Velvet Buzzsaw, the viewer is brought into the life of art dealers, critics, and the artists they love to hate. The snobbish energy drips from the ceiling like invisible paint, and this is ultimately what captured my interest once it began. I entered another world, which I would probably not want to be a part of because as quickly as you are sucked in, even quicker can you be spit out. The question of what constitutes art is an itch that continues throughout the movie whether up and coming artists or established ones who have paid their dues. It took a fair amount of time to show the horror elements, but it only increased my interest to see how it would end.
Velvet Buzzsaw is a Netflix and Dease Pictures Inc. production with Dan Gilroy as writer and director. Gilroy was the one also responsible for Nightcrawler where Jake Gyllenhaal played a freelance photojournalist. Jennifer Fox was the producer and Robert Elswit was the cinematographer. The main cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal as Morf Vanderwalt Rene Russo as Rhodora Haza, Zawe Ashton as Josephina, Tom Surridge as Jon Dondon, Toni Collette as Gretchen, Natalia Dyer as Coco, Daveed Diggs as Damrish, and John Malkovich as Piers, Billy Magnussen as Bryson, and Alan Mandell as Vetril Dease. This one hour and 53 minutes long movie is about the fine line between art promotion and profit in terms of consumerism, greed, and artist relevance. It has a R rating for profanity, nudity, and frightening & intense scenes.
Here is the basic plot that doesn’t include minor or major spoilers. We start out in Florida, Miami Beach to be particular, where Morf (art critic) and Josephina (art agent) pretty much finishes each other’s sentences and has similar opinions. They have a strong relationship that only strengthens when Josephina travels back to her apartment in Los Angeles.
She stumbles upon a man in the hallway and when she realizes he is dead, she swallows her fears and enters his apartment. Once inside, she realizes the potential to make a name for herself especially with her hardened boss, Rhodora. When she finally attachs a name to the recently deceased, Josephina encourages Rhodora to show and sell Vetril Dease’s paintings. The subject matter isn’t necessarily dark, but they have a haunting quality to them as recognized by everyone who sees them. This includes art curator, Gretchen, and an artist, Piers.
To ensure the demand for Dease’s work, half of the paintings are put in storage at the request of Rhodora. In the cut throat art scene, people’s greed can get the better of them and results in consequences. But, people turn a blind eye like Rhodora and continue on like nothing happened unless your name is Coco. She is the only one who truly knows something is not right, but given her status as a failing assistant, no one listens to her. This doesn’t mean others aren’t doing their own research into Dease. He might not be the first painter to use body fluids in his pieces, but what he uses alarms Morf, and this secret must remain with him.
As Gretchen and Rhodora work to popularize Dease even further, a new artist comes onto the scene called Damrish. As he becomes the new “it guy,” Piers is having a hard time finding inspiration for creating new pieces, and Morf continues to suffer mentally from what he has learned and done. Josephina’s life isn’t faring well either as she is now alone. Gretchen and Rhodora hope to survive this colossal mess on their hands before it’s too late. Meanwhile, Piers finally finds some peace near a beach where he draws designs in the sand that disappear when the tide washes over them.
As I mentioned before, I enjoyed seeing the snobbery of being an art critic or art gallery owner because this does happen and does exist. It’s a culture that is fascinating because the decisions made are usually behind closed doors. The same goes for music and film. Who decides if a person gets paid thousands of dollars for something versus a few pennies. You can have two people with similar technique, vision, creativity, and skill, but one will hardly make any profit as an artist. This is part Velvet Buzzsaw’s strength because even critics are subjective in their criticism. They can be your worst nightmare or best friend. They can end your careers or push you to new limits. I also liked the part of a particular painting or any object for that matter being inherently bad. It begs the question of how much of the intention by the artist matters once it is finished. Besides people creating art as an emotional and energetic outlet, are there layers not seen by the human eye too? Long after the person has died, what is the full impact of the work?
I’d recommend this because it’s not only a satirical commentary of the art scene, basically the pretentiousness of its players and artists, but it had an interesting concept. This wasn’t so new for me because I’ve watched one too many shows concerning similar types of phenomenon, but Velvet Buzzsaw was more buzzsaw than buzzkill. I liked it for Jake Gyllenhaal, of course, but for the fact the ending was just that, without any gimmicks. Sometimes things are just what they are, and no matter what you do, life keeps going on with or without you in it. How much you think or obsess about it is totally up to you. Yet, I thought there could’ve been a little more screen time between Damrish and Dease. I think you’ll know what I mean if you watch it.
I was so excited to post this that I forgot to rate it. Therefore, I rate Velvet Buzzsaw NEAR PERFECT at 95%.