"Boogie Woogie", a London art-world spoof directed by Duncan Ward, may have clued me in to a universal truth, but I'll get to that in a minute. The film's immediate allure is its roster of celebrities: Alan Cumming, Gillian Anderson, Charlotte Rampling and Amanda Seyfried, among others, all in juicy roles plucked from Danny Moynihan's 2001 satirical novel of the same name.
It's a comedy of manners, "Boogie Woogie", set in London during the art boom of the 1990s and concentrating on a circle of collectors, dealers, assistants and artists, all of whom might as well have cartoon-style dollar signs flashing in their eyes. The painting at the centre of the film is a coveted Mondrian owned by an old collector who refuses to sell it. Letting the piece go, he maintains, "would be like trading gold for potatoes." Ah, but Art Spindle (Danny Huston)—a dealer with face-defining glasses and an all-white office—will not rest until the painting is on the market. "Art should not be allowed to stagnate," he aphorises. "There's always a price for everything."
The Mondrian is a curse, setting in motion a chain of events connected only by the logic of farce. There is a poodle named Picasso, a heavy dose of lesbian sex, oily men yelling at each other ("Gerard! Where the hell is my money, dammit!") and Gillian Anderson playing a horny housewife with carnelian hair. Anyone who seeks lingering shots of Amanda Seyfried's butt will want to schedule a viewing of this film, pronto. For a story that barely makes sense, Boogie Woogie is more than pleasant to sit through.
And it does propose, like I said, a universal truth: that at a certain ultra-rarefied level, all worlds involving the intersection of aesthetics and money—fashion, music and art, to name three—resemble nothing so much as a high-stakes high-school hallway. The players are the same, the social transactions are coded, the urge to rebel is intense, and the consequences of a faux pas can be fatal. In the context of a nasty little film about a nasty little world, this is a thesis with which we can all identify.
"Boogie Woogie" premiered in 2009 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. It recently screened at the IFC in New York, and is set for general release later this year
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