"Local Color" is a sensitive portrayal of a young painter trying to sharpen his gifts and a deeply flawed piece of filmmaking. It's a movie that will have you loving and loathing the world of art, often in the same instant.
The year is 1974, and John (Trevor Morgan, "Jurassic Park III") is an aspiring painter cursed with a homophobe for a dad (Ray Liotta) and little opportunity for art education. When John discovers famous Russian artist Nicoli Seroff (Armin Mueller-Stahl) lives nearby, he introduces himself to the cantankerous alcoholic, hoping to become his student. Nicoli hates the world, but John's intelligence piques his curiosity, and the two spend a summer in the country discussing art and life, learning from each other.
It's commendable that writer/director George Gallo wants to vent his frustrations with the art community and explore the genesis of creativity and inspiration. "Local Color" certainly has its heart in the right place, exhibiting intelligence and passion about art appreciation. Gallo (a painter himself) envisions the picture as his own canvas, carefully setting his shots and screen colors to parallel the work performed by the characters. "Color" contains an aura of thoughtfulness that challenges the viewer, but anything that needs care tends to be dropped like a hot potato as quickly as it's introduced.
Gallo, looking to appeal to the widest audience possible, has elected to script with a head for mediocrity, cribbing the template for "The Karate Kid" to round up John's story of self-discovery and artistic tutoring. Seriously, these two films could be matched up like a "Dark Side of the Rainbow" experience. Gallo seems terrified of allowing "Color" a chance to truly plumb the depths of growing pains, so he inserts homosexual stereotypes (Ron Perlman, doing a horrible Paul Lynde impression), half-realized "Summer of '42" love bites (played bravely by Samantha Mathis), and a suffocating score by Chris Boardman to anesthetize the audience so they'll sit for another round of painting technique debate.
"Color" also loves to swipe at art critics, and the screenplay waves its hands wildly to remind the audience of it. The feature even goes as far as to make fun of paintings created by mentally-challenged adults to isolate pseudo-intellectual art world buffoonery. I'm not sure what Gallo was thinking with that one.
The anamorphic widescreen presentation (2.40:1 aspect ratio) for "Local Color" feels a little dark at times, muting the warm summertime feel of the photography. Skintones read a too pink for comfort as well. Colors retain some power, especially when captured in the painting sequences. Detail also remains, which is great to have to appreciate the concepts of beauty the film is hoping to communicate.
A basic 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix keeps attention to the dialogue, with a clean reproduction of the often heated discussions. Scoring cues also find a crisp home. The track is a bit on the thin side, but never disagreeable.
English subtitles are included.
"Featurette" (8:16) is the film's standard-issue promotional tool, with Gallo explaining his inspirations and his creative choices while checking off his list of the accolades for his cast. It's packaged nicely, but never gets under the skin.
"Actor Interviews" (14:36) sits down with Armin Mueller-Stahl, Trevor Morgan, and Samantha Mathis as they discuss their performances, stimulations, and feelings about the art-world aspect of the story. Mueller-Stahl is particularly animated about the work, which is amusing to watch.
"George Gallo's Studio" (1:57) brings a camera into the director's creative space to view his work.
A Theatrical Trailer has been included.
Now, before anyone sits grandma down with this polite-sounding movie about painting prairie landscapes, please allow me to inform the viewing public that Gallo has made a strange artistic choice to fill his picture with bucketfuls of obscenity. It's not even in service of realism either, just profanity for the sake of profanity, and it takes the proposed dreamlike quality right out of the picture. It's tough to muster sympathy for the characters when the actors sound like Andrew Dice Clay for reasons unknown.