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Overall Rating

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Worth A Look: 24.14%
Average: 3.45%
Pretty Bad: 27.59%
Total Crap44.83%

4 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
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by Erik Childress

"Desperate Housewife and the Luchador Chewbacca"
1 stars

At the beginning of Terry Gilliam’s finally released Tideland, the director comes out to introduce the film informing viewers precisely what they are about to see and explaining that many of you will probably actually hate it. Of course, this was included after such a negative reaction at its Toronto festival premiere prompted unanimous scorn from everyone who came into contact with it. Steven Shainberg has taken it a step further, intentionally informing patrons of his second effort that none of the biographical material is real. It takes two title cards to wax about its photographer’s inner being, a protracted title for those already making stroking hand gestures and a reminder during the final credits that nearly every character not named Arbus in the film doesn’t exist. If only the viewing of this tale were truly imagined.

Diane (pronounced DEE-an) Arbus (Nicole Kidman) was just a housewife in the 1950s. Despite being the stylist assistant to her husband’s photography business, Diane was still subjected to the life of privilege provided by her well-to-do parents (Jane Alexander & Harris Yulin) that she never lived up to. After breaking down before a home-filled room of reporters providing beauty tips, she busts out on her balcony opening up her dress in the hopes that Jimmy Stewart, Carl Boehm or George McFly would be watching. The only one who notices her that night is the man-in-a-mask moving in upstairs.

This man in the Rey Mysterio shroud is Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.), who conceals his appearance thanks to a rare disease from the planet of Kashyyyk that causes an accelerated puberty to every speck of his body. She becomes intrigued by this man enough to want to finally take her own photograph. He allows her in, but only after a Hannibal Lecter-esque prodding of her childhood trying to open up the path of her vagina which has frozen over more than the Hoth System. Diane becomes increasingly distant from her family, staying out all night and letting her hair finally flow from the encumberences of ponytails and although apparently taking a jar full of pictures, we only ever see her snap one.

Oh I suppose that’s meant as the great reveal of Arbus’ life; that her work was so on the fringe of contemporary society, a diversion from the happy homemakers and fur-sporters that its beyond our fragile egos to lay our eyes upon her genius and the “secrets” contained within her photos. Yeah, well I don’t need to see a picture of a bull taking a dump to call it what it is. Announcing itself almost as an anti-biopic, Fur nevertheless falls into the same trappings of every dull piece of bad drama. Ever seen a movie about a person becoming something other than what society deems the norm while their spouse or someone close to them begins to disapprove? Check. Ever seen a tale about a withdrawn woman, thrust out of her shell by a mysterious man exposing her to confront hidden sexual desires until finally giving it up to the guy sans clothing in the final reel? Yeah, me too. I believe it was called Secretary and it was also directed by Steven Shainberg.

What we basically have here in Shainberg exposing himself on screen as a wannabe auteur trying to sum up Arbus’ life through a complete fantasy that isn’t the least bit fantastical. I’m sure that those who knew and respected Arbus’ work will balk at Shainberg reducing her “art” as being spawned purely from a fascination with circus freaks. What are the true “secrets”, as she was famous for saying behind Downey’s not-so-Teen-Wolf? A life lived under a mask cursed to him by God surely has to be more interesting than than whatever metaphor they are hoping to grasp by the all-night shaving session that might have worked better if Kidman joined in to use the razor on herself. Use your imagination. This key relationship between the sheltered does nothing for understanding the framework of her career or what kinship she found with these types. And Shainerg’s own framework of bookending Arbus’ growth with that of a nudist colony is of the most amateurish of allegories and earns him a instant pass to the Hall of Fame of Pretentiousness.

Kidman and Downey play along as the low-talking, emotionless creatures, backed into Shainberg’s vision of a world viewed through a disposable camera. Not an ounce of attention is paid to them as human beings either as a woman who would prefer to be an outcast than content or as a man who has become content as an outcast. As his merry cadre of circus folk play cards with Cousin It, our brains tipped to the shallow side of an empty pool will be tempted to shout out the sage strategy of “let the wookiee win.” Ah, but ‘tis the late 50s and Star Wars was but a speck in George Lucas’ plot to seize the global economy for himself. But so what? Let’s all imagine that it was out then. It’s easy if you try. Much easier than sitting through Fur.

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originally posted: 11/17/06 16:14:20
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User Comments

3/18/16 Charles Tatum Bizarre & totally interesting 4 stars
7/31/13 fartvenugen How does Chewbacca take a dump? 2 stars
1/10/09 Anonymous. bizarre is one way to put it... 3 stars
6/02/07 nazanin sharafkhah weird & nothing to say& pointless 1 stars
4/22/07 Haridam Ultimately rather pointless 2 stars
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  10-Nov-2006 (R)
  DVD: 08-May-2007



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