'Boogie Woogie': Slick Moves Among The Art Mob

Danny Huston

Art Kingpin: Art Spindle (Danny Huston) is a cutthroat, stop-at-nothing art dealer who must have Piet Mondrian's first "Boogie Woogie" painting. He competes with other culturati to buy the painting, the price tag for which is upwards of $20 million. IFC hide caption

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Boogie Woogie

  • Director: Duncan Ward
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 94 minutes
Not Rated

With: Gillian Anderson, Alan Cumming, Heather Graham, Danny Huston.

Big news! The fine-arts world is overrun by pseuds and bores with more dough than sense — common or aesthetic. When they're not rubbing their hands and whispering, "Fantastic, how much?", the money-grubbing super-capitalists of Boogie Woogie — a new film by Duncan Ward based on Danny Moynihan's 2000 novel, which I now have no desire to read — busy themselves snorting coke, knocking back the Scotch, switching partners at the drop of a hat and otherwise indulging their polymorphously perverse sexual appetites, casually selling each other out at trendy gallery parties all the while. In between they make, broker and buy a lot of very bad art, not excluding some confessional video porn with which the director is clearly as obsessed as are his characters. Lest you miss the point, the camera repeatedly directs our attention to a framed painting that contains the words "Trust Me."

Boogie Woogie is set in London, and the backdrop is pretty much what you'd expect — cavernous studios, white offices with white phones on paper-free glass desks, and so on. But it might as well be New York, Los Angeles or any other art metropolis for all its sense of place, which is confined to splendid views of the Thames, and a few aerial shots of the city by night.

In what passes for plot, several thin-lipped types (call them aesthete-entrepreneurs, or hell, call them crooks) conspire to pry loose one very good piece of art — a Mondrian painting known as "Boogie Woogie" — from its decrepit owner (Christopher Lee). But the gentleman refuses to sell, despite the entreaties of his aging blonde wife, played by the absolutely fabulous Joanna Lumley, and her deliciously reptilian "secretary" (Simon McBurney).

Gillian Anderson i i

Witchy Woman: No art world would be complete without a high-maintenance diva; Gillian Anderson plays Jean Maclestone, an uppity and oh-so-shallow collector. IFC hide caption

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Gillian Anderson

Witchy Woman: No art world would be complete without a high-maintenance diva; Gillian Anderson plays Jean Maclestone, an uppity and oh-so-shallow collector.

IFC

Indeed, just about all the acting in this otherwise pedestrian satire is fabulous, and for want of other diversions you might amuse yourself itemizing all the squandered talent: Danny Huston in heavy specs and an evil giggle as a scheming dealer in avant-garde painting; Gillian Anderson as an addled airhead who's a touch generous with her sexual favors; Stellan Skarsgard as a feckless collector whose taste has a distinctly mammary cast; Alan Cumming as an earnest curator; and in the department of vacuous blond hussies, Heather Graham and that cute little tadpole Amanda Seyfried.

The whole ensemble is doing its best, but no amount of good acting can paper over the fact that these characters — except one, and you don't want to know what happens to him— all share one nasty, venal and thoroughly flat personality. Worse, the movie makes the audience complicit in its own corrupt smugness, forcing us to rejoice in the superiority of our own earthy good sense (relative to these pretentious twits) and ducking some important questions about the distinction between art and kitsch.

For all the slick, tricksy competence of the filmmaking, Boogie Woogie contrives to be both dully derivative and clueless about how well-trodden this terrain is — how much more adroitly others have addressed its themes, and with what greater affection for both art and people, even at their worst. Either Grant and Moynihan have not seen Basquiat, Factory Girl, Pollock or any of the other, admittedly flawed efforts to read the contemporary art world, or they don't care that they haven't found two cents of their own to add to the conversation. Conflating black comedy with cynicism, Boogie Woogie ends, dispiritingly, pretty much where it began.

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