Art School Confidential (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Art School Confidential is a case of a pretty good movie - or maybe I should say a very good movie - that proved impossible to market. First, the audience for it is quite small. Second, that audience is very hard to find. It's just an odd little film.
Imagine Animal House to start with, or any standard campus comedy in the "coming of age" genre. Art School Confidential follows that formula completely, except that it is making fun of Pratt in the 2000s rather than Dartmouth in the 1960s. Our hero even looks a bit like Pinto. He's the small, quiet, sensitive type who just wants to be an artist, and to find his true love. He identifies her, buys her coffee, shares her dreams, and listens to her, but the dream girl sees him only as a confidante and seeks her sexual excitement from a hunky guy who looks like Charles Rocket. Usual genre stuff.
Except it isn't.
The film was created by Terry Zwigoff (director) and Daniel Clowes (writer), the same guys who created Ghost World together. They are classic outsiders with a dark, cynical world-view, so you know it will be an art film of sorts. Oh, yeah. And it's also a murder mystery about a campus strangler. And it has plenty of nudity, including prolonged full-frontal male nudity. So there you have it. Questions abound. Is it possible for a formula coming-of-age film to please the arthouse crowd? For that matter, what do the arty Zwigoff/Crewes fans think of teen slasher films. Is it possible for an art movie to please the audience for slasher movies? And so forth. I have to admit I don't know how I would have marketed the film, or to whom I would have tried to sell it.
But I liked it.
As it turns out, the campus slasher angle was completely necessary to the cynical storyline. You see, the art world is a cruel one. Our hero is a very talented kid, but he keeps getting beaten down by the realities of the art world. The dumb hunky guy who takes the girl from him also manages to beat him in the local art competitions, despite the fact that his work is laughable. To make matters even worse, Mr. Hunk is not even an art student at all, nor does he know the first thing about art. He's an undercover cop posing as an art student in order to entrap the slasher!
The humor of having our hero lose the art prizes to the undercover cop was the first reason why the slasher sub-plot was necessary to the plot, but there was an even more important reason. Our hero ends up getting arrested for the crimes! It turns out that the actual slasher is an artistic genius who lives near the campus and is a well-known figure among the art students. The killer's paintings are so brilliant that our hero borrows them and tries to pass them off as his own so he can win the art competitions and thus win the girl back. There are two major flaws in that scheme. The first is that artistic judgment has nothing to do with true artistic genius. Art is whatever artists say it is. The brilliant paintings lose the contest anyway - to the dumbass grade school paintings of the undercover cop. The more important flaw in the plan is that the paintings reveal details of the crimes that only the real killer could know. Our hero says he painted them, ergo he must be the killer.
The film's cynicism doesn't stop there. You are thinking that our hero is now at the nadir of his life. He has lost the girl; he has lost the art competition; and he has been arrested for multiple homicides. You must think that this film has usurped from The Last American Virgin the honor of having the most depressing ending in the history of coming-of-age films.
You would be wrong. As it turns out, those are all good things.
The notoriety of his circumstances sends the value of his paintings through the roof. Since he is now the world's most famous artist since Warhol, his girl is completely in love with him. Best of all, his lawyer can eventually get him off because he has airtight alibis for several of the killings. Of course, our hero and his agent will not allow the lawyer to present that evidence until all the paintings have been sold for maximum value as the work of a mad, murderous genius, but eventually he will leave prison, rich, famous, and loved by the girl of his dreams.
As I mentioned, I have no idea who the audience for this film might be, but however that group is defined, count me in it.
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