High Art
Universal // R // $19.98 // July 27, 2004
Review by Robert Spuhler | posted September 8, 2004
M O V I E
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie:

There are two distinct sides to what a screenplay is about: The verisimilitude and the truth. The verisimilitude is the who, what, when, where, why and how. It is the nuts and bolts, things like the setting and the plot. But the truth is where a screenplay really stands out. What is the common experienced, the shared nature, which drives the plot forward?

High Art, writer/director Lisa Cholodenko's debut full-length feature, gained some notoriety with the casting of Ally Sheedy, still best known to most as Allison from The Breakfast Club, as the lesbian love interest. But the lesbian affairs and rampant drug use are nothing more than window dressing to what the film is really about unhappiness with life as it is and the lack of will power to change it.

The protagonist is Syd (Radha Mitchell), an assistant editor for a top photography magazine who is looking to move up the ladder. She meets Lucy Berliner (Sheedy), a "retired" photographer who lives above her in a New York apartment building. Syd ends up acting as Lucy's muse as their professional and personal lives begin to intertwine.

The chemistry between Mitchell and Sheedy is absolutely electric. When the two of them are on screen alone, there is always a sense of danger or excitement. It is that feeling that sustains the film through some of its slower moments.

But topping both Mitchell and Sheedy is Patricia Clarkson, who's over-the-top characterization of out-of-work German actress Greta brings both levity and an interesting context to Syd and Lucy's burgeoning relationship. In a constant narcotics-induced fog, Greta is dependent on Lucy for love, money, drugs and life. It is everything that Lucy is trying to escape professionally and in her own life.

The DVD

Video:

The anamorphic widescreen transfer of High Art is the best that could be done with an independent film shot on the cheap like this. The only flaws that are visible are from the film itself sometimes the focus is a bit soft, especially inside. But it is clear that the flaws are not from the transfer.

Audio:

The Dolby 2.0 track provided is decent, but the dialogue is very low in some scenes. There is no concern about boosting the volume to hear the dialogue, though; the whole film is quiet, so you won't be struggling to hear in one scene and blown back in the next.

Extras:

Aside from the film's trailer, the only extra included on High Art is a feature-length commentary with Cholodenko. Aside from the usual compliments lavished up on the cast and crew (including the phrase "they really went there" and variants thereof used in reference to actors somewhere around eight thousand times), Cholodenko really explained how the film got made. Listening to the story of how a non-commercial, very independent film that did not have a major built-in audience found funding and got through the production process was fascinating, and Cholodenko is a pretty good story-teller.

Final Thoughts:

Beyond the basics of the script the lesbian love, the drug use - High Art is about lost ambition and misdirection in life. It's a beautifully told story, punctuated with fantastic performances, and an easy film to recommend.



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