2007-03-19 16:02

In 1958, Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman) is a house wife, and assistant to her husband, magazine photographer Allan (Ty Burrel). She finds her life repressive and unrewarding, and is intrigued when a strange ex-circus-performer, Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jr.) moves into the flat above hers. She begins a friendship with the eccentric Sweeney, and meets his strange friends and acquaintances, entering a very different world to that of New York’s respectable society. As the friendship turns to love, she finds herself awakening as an artist.


Creating a tribute to a famous artist in the form of a fictional biopic sounds like a fantastic idea, a compliment from one creative mind to another, but how does this translate into entertainment, or an artistic statement? Fur is as perfect example of a flawed gem – an audacious idea, with no shortage of talented people, yet somehow it is less than the sum of its parts.

The excellent cast is headed by Nicole Kidman, who manages to make the transformation from depressed housewife, to bohemian carnie groupie believable. She simultaneously exudes innocence and experience, giving her portrayal of Dinae Arbus a lot of complexity. Both Ty Burrell and Robert Downey Jr. do a fine job of portraying the two men in her life, and the supporting cast are flawless.

Fur looks beautiful too, mixing the production design of a Jeunet piece like City of the Lost Children with Bjork music video aesthetics, giving the whole film quite a dreamlike quality. Read as a metaphor, this works rather well, contrasting the sterile oppressive atmosphere of her family home with Lionel’s colourful apartment upstairs, and the scenes with Diane’s stuffy family work nicely against the scenes of dwarves and transvestites partying together.

The biggest problem with Fur is its lack of focus. Steven Shainberg’s previous film, Secretary, was a love story with a twist, and a dark sense of humour. In some ways Fur is similar, telling the love story of two people who have difficulty fitting into the world, but it comes up short by mixing in very real family drama, existential angst about the creative process, and a fairy tale about outcasts. This all-over-the-place approach eventually leaves the narrative hanging, in favour of sequences of singing dwarves, and foreboding shots of stairwells.

Who is Fur aimed at? As a tribute to a photographer that is little known in South Africa, I’m sure many people will either expect a straight biopic, or at least something relating to Arbus’s pictures, but this film is neither. The fairytale/dream atmosphere that Fur cultivates is so far from the warts and all style that made Arbus famous, that it would make more sense to rename it as a tribute to an artist who worked with dreams and the surreal.

As a story of quirky romance and creative awakening, Fur is acceptable. As an artistic tribute it provides little information and, as far as getting inside the mind of an artist like Diane Arbus in concerned, it isn’t very convincing. It is not a bad film, but it is as frustrating as it is entertaining - and that’s not a good thing.

- Ivan Sadler
A fictional tale of photographer Diane Arbus, in which an affair with an ex circus performer leads her to shun her repressive 50s family like, and starts her on the road to becoming one the 20th centuries most important artists.

powell 2007/02/04 11:24 PM
mr music
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