Velvet Buzzsaw: All art is dangerous

Until recently, buzzworthy films coming out of Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival each January took six to eight months to reach a wide audience.

A major film studio would snap up a noteworthy indie darling and stash it away from moviegoers until the fall and awards season long after the buzz had died down.

The advent of online streaming services has expedited access for average moviegoers to see these Sundance hits considerably.
Netflix’s boldest endeavor with

Sundance – writer/director Dan Gilroy’s artistic supernatural horror-thriller “Velvet Buzzsaw” – sets a new bar for turnaround from festival to mainstream as “Buzzsaw” dropped on the streaming service Friday just four days after premiering at the year’s first major film event.

Gilroy’s eccentric, occasionally erratic feature serves as both figurative and literal defense for Netflix’s instant gratification film strategy with “Buzzsaw” characters lamenting “What’s the point of art if nobody sees it?”

Set in the high end Los Angeles art world, “Buzzsaw” revels in Gilroy’s clawing, satirical screenplay that probably thinks itself more important than the artists the film takes down.

Audiences follow several artists, rival art dealers and a renowned critic as they aimlessly banter for close to 45 minutes until the work of a previously unknown talent is shown.

The tone changes dramatically as cutting satire turns to light horror masquerading as suspense. Pieces painted partially with the artist’s blood begin to have chilling psychological effects on those who view them for too long.

For Gilroy the filmmaker, “Buzzsaw” is less dynamic than his audacious and prescient take on the ruthless world of television news with 2014’s “Nightcrawler,” but still reflects a similarly gritty, cynical tone.

As the name implies, “Buzzsaw” is a somewhat bloody affair, though the film leans away from simple gore for a more exacting, largely unseen violence reliant on implied terror.
The screenplay is buoyed by a deep, talented cast that give the script’s natural wit added zing.

Gilroy re-teams with his “Nightcrawler” star Jake Gyllenhaal and pulls an increasingly manic, mesmerizing performance out of the Oscar nominated actor.

As self-important, sexually fluid art critic Morf Vandewalt, Gyllenhaal excels at slowing unraveling Vandewalt’s psyche and allowing audiences to use the character as a touchstone while events become increasingly absurd.

Rene Russo and Toni Colette both offer a calculated, menacing tone to their work as rival art collectors almost as if they were playing opposite sides of the same coin.

Although every John Malkovich role begins to feel the same, there’s a seamless authenticity to his turn as a languishing artist tired of the commercialization of his medium and out of ideas.

Zane Ashton holds her own at times opposite Gyllenhaal as up-and-coming collector Josephina, but the singular charisma within his performance often overshadows her work and the film as a whole.

With art as the centerpiece of the narrative, it should come as no surprise that “Buzzsaw” takes a lot of chances with camera positioning, lighting and angles that create a visually dynamic spectacle worth watching alone even with the sound off.

Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit give the film an evocative presence that informs a sense of place and builds toward an unusual climax as viewers wander down the rabbit hole.

Likely to have been a box office disaster if it had been released theatrically, Gilroy’s film is an ideal choice for streaming as “Buzzsaw” will be endlessly re-watchable for its ardent fans and a cost-free early exit for those who find the esoteric nature of the screenplay unnecessarily snobby.

Richly artistic and mildly psychotic, “Velvet Buzzsaw” offers up a thrilling Gyllenhaal performance amid an uneven film worth checking out at home.

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