Film – Velvet Buzzsaw

Steve Taylor-Bryant donned his black turtle-neck, grabbed a glass of warm flat champagne and contemplated Velvet Buzzsaw on Netflix...

Like any good art, the beauty of this film is in the eye of the beholder and I imagine that what I saw when I watched Velvet Buzzsaw will be different to your experience. What Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) has written and directed is, for me, a work of art that has many levels of depth and perception ingrained.

On the surface you have a horror film and, as just that, Velvet Buzzsaw sort of works, the periods of time between horrific acts are quite long so if you are in it for the blood you must be patient. It's also a parody, at least to me, of the art world and those who work within it. The egotistical manner of the art crowd, using words I am sure they don’t understand to express what an artist must have meant by the work they are standing in front of, the bitchy backstabbing between gallery owners, the fake love people have for one another when they think they may have some inside information or gossip or might be able to one-up themselves in a purchase. All those tropes are evident to me as I watch but maybe that’s because I am naturally cynical and so that’s what I see in real life, Gilroy’s art speaks to me like a mirror held up to a particular slice of society if you’ll allow. Maybe for you these actions will come across differently. For me, Velvet Buzzsaw is a lesson in where greed gets you, which is never a good place, how many people get hurt on your way up, and how many you destroy on your inevitable way down. Velvet Buzzsaw is a gem of a film that left me thinking and stewing long after I had finished watching it.

Dan Gilroy has a storyteller's heart. When you look at the films he is responsible for, each offers something different to a viewer and, I would guess, an actor too, so it's no surprise that, with Velvet Buzzsaw, he has managed to gather into one collection some of the finest artists we have in modern cinema, with each one playing a pivotal role no matter the size of the part. For example one of my favourite performances in the film is that of John Malkovich as Piers, the washed up artist that everyone still thinks is a cash cow and he is hardly in the film, it’s a step above a cameo but my eye was drawn to him every time he was on screen. Natalie Dyer, as Coco, is an actress I am not that familiar with but her character's run of luck on the job front is all too reminiscent of my past working life, every time a great opportunity comes up, some event stops that dream from becoming a reality, albeit my future employers didn’t all die in some horrific orgy of art related pain. Zawe Ashton as Josephine was excellent, the bitchiest of the bitches when needed, loving when required, and nearly always stuck up and, along with Tom Sturridge as Jon Dondon, highly watchable. Toni Collette never lets anyone down and plays another blinder as Gretchen, but it is the main two that really impress the most. 

It's no secret that I am in love with the Gyllenhaals, their acting skills are almost without equal but it is the bravery in their role choices that I admire the most. Jake in particular always surprises me with the material he picks to play and, whilst I was always a fan, it was 2014’s Nightcrawler, his first team up with Dan Gilroy, that he cemented himself in my ‘can do no wrong’ camp. As art critic Morf Vandewalt, Gyllenhaal just exudes talent, camp, over the top, knowledgeable and big headed, ruthless, but at the same time confused, lonely, scared, and aiming to please. In the grand scheme of things Morf was the character upon which the entirety of Velvet Buzzsaw hung. Cast the wrong guy as Morf and Velvet Buzzsaw is a mess of comedy horror, but Gyllenhaal takes the wonderfully crafted material and glues it together in a way that seems so effortless it makes him the director’s imagination incarnate. Gyllenhaal makes Velvet Buzzsaw art, he makes it the imagery upon which we will now have discussions, but to allow that range of behaviours to manifest you need a grounded foil to play off and Rene Russo is magnificent. Her character of Rhodora Haze, the ex-punk musician gallery owner, Velvet Buzzsaw was the name of her band and is tattooed on her shoulder, is almost unlikeable. She is bitchy in the extreme, she is selfish, she is ignorant of others and lacks common decency and manners, she is wonderful to watch and it's great to see Rene Russo thriving in a part such as this. Russo seems to be in her element and the fun she is having playing Rhodora is evident in every scene, but it is the scenes she shares with Gyllenhaal that work best and this particular team up is one that needs to be repeated often. The pair just bounce off each other, making the world building ‘boring’ parts of the story interesting and heightening the expectations when the weirdness starts.

Dan Gilroy has created a masterpiece in my eyes, a film that works on so many levels and one I cannot wait to rewatch. He has also created actual art, a vision that will elicit different responses from different people and I must say to manage that in a world where a film needs so many people to like it, that is as risky as it is clever.

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites

Images - Netflix
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