High Art

High Art (1998) is at times a very disturbing film. It deals with subjects often considered taboo and shunned by the large studios.

Independent films have always been among my favorites. Usually because they don’t rely on big budgets, special effects and the usual studio hype so many films today are afflicted by. High Art (1998) is at times a very disturbing film.

It deals with subjects often considered taboo and shunned by the large studios. Still, the performances carry this film and they carry it very well. The story centers around Syd (Radha Mitchell) recently promoted to Assistant Photo Editor for a glossy, up scale photography magazine. Although she was promoted she is still treated like an intern, running petty errands with little or no real responsibility. Syd lives in a loft with her boyfriend James (Babriel Mann). He is not really very supportive, always pushing her in a manner that borders on degrading.

It’s nothing overt but High Art does an excellent job of showing the growing tension between the couple. One evening while Syd is trying to take a bath she notices a leak from the upstairs apartment. She goes to try to fix it and meets Lucy (Ally Sheedy). Lucy is a former great photographer, a heroin abuser and a lesbian. Draw to photos displayed in the apartment Syd begins a friendship with Lucy. Lucy is living with a has-been German actress Greta (Patricia Clarkson) who is so deep into using that she is almost comatose throughout High Art. Syd takes her discovery of her new friend’s talent to her bosses and discovers that Lucy was once among the best but just seemed to drop off the face of the earth. As the friendship between Syd and Lucy develops Syd soon finds herself experimenting with snorting heroin and borders on addiction herself. The friendship deepens as Lucy begins to fall in love with Syd and Syd finds herself drawn deeper and deeper to Lucy.

High Art is a showcase for some excellent acting. Mitchell is perfectly cast as the almost waif-like editor Syd. Mitchell permits some inner strength to show through, some capacity for self determination but balances this with a young woman that is so used to being lead by others that she sublimates her own will. Her interaction with Sheedy’s character Lucy is the catalyst. Syd begins to feel and act upon desires she never imagined. Still, Lucy is the dominant one and tends to set the direction at every turn. Sheedy’s performance displays a great dedication to the craft of acting. Sheedy balances the role of the recluse photographer, heroin addict and lesbian extremely well. Both of these young women exhibit great range and depth to the emotions they invoke in the audience. While the supporting cast is very good, High Art boils down to a two-woman showcase.

When you view High Art pay attention to the details, the little glances between Sheedy and Mitchell, a slight touch or little body movements. They tell the whole story in these details. While the overall tone of High Art is rather dark the talent of Sheedy and Mitchell provide what is necessary to make High Art into one that is difficult to turn off.

The director for this opus is Lisa Cholodenko. She has the potential to become a really good independent filmmaker. While I don’t think she will ever fit in to the Hollywood mainstream I see this as a good thing for the audience. Cholondenko exhibits a style and grace in High Art, again, by paying attention to the details. The scenes are well constructed and often contrast the prevailing mood of the scene.

For example in the leaky bathroom in Lucy’s apartment the photos on the wall exhibit composition and talent that is anachronistic to the drug abuse and hedonism that routinely occurs in the next room. The control of the photos Lucy takes displays the potential that she turns away from with her life of drifting along snorting heroin. Cholodenko keeps the pace of the film a bit off balance. The film seems to start and stop quite frequently as Cholodenko plays with the lighting and mood.

High Art may not be the easiest one to find. It is not on DVD yet but it can be found on the premium cable stations. While it deals with a difficult and dark set of circumstances it provides a look into a life in turmoil and disarray. A look that will fascinate the audience.

Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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