My Art
Film Movement // Unrated // $14.49 // January 30, 2018
Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 14, 2018
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
Ellie Shine (Laurie Simmons) is an artist, and she's ready to dive into her next big piece. She's just visited a former student (Lena Dunham) at an art gallery where the student's work is being exhibited, wrapped another semester of teaching, and has lined up a nice location, in the form of a summer house owned by a friend who has offered to let Ellie stay there for the summer. Ellie knows that she wants to work with film on her next project, meaning both filming with a Bolex camera and tapping into the visuals from old movies that she loves so much, but she only discovers upon arriving that the journey will involve some locals, including local actors/landscapers Frank (Robert Clohessy) and Tom (Josh Safdie), as well as John (John Rothman), the laywer relative of one of her students.

My Art is a gorgeous movie, not just starring but also written and directed by visual artist Laurie Simmons. Although the movie has minimal narrative beyond Ellie's relationship with her new friends and her efforts in trying to complete her project, the movie is deeply compelling thanks to all of Simmons' gorgeous compositions and interesting visual flights of fancy, as well as her impressive performance in the lead role. It is perhaps rare to find a movie that feels so precisely crafted these days, with each shot and composition dazzling the viewer, boldly and subtly.

In terms of visual spectacle, there might be an inclination to look at Simmons' recreation of several famous movie scenes as the "big" flourishes of My Art, but while these are good -- capturing a range of films from Jules and Jim to A Clockwork Orange -- it's actually the casual stuff that tends to capture the imagination. Right from the beginning, a sequence of Ellie walking through a museum, there's a dynamism to the cinematography, capturing angles and particular compositions that makes the camera feel as alive as Ellie is. In another scene, two characters hands are seen writing information down in addition to talking about it, instead of showing their faces. Simmons tends toward longer, unbroken takes, prefers to move the camera to find a new angle rather than cut to one, locating symmetry and visual poetry within the image.

Character-wise, the film is also compelling, with Clohessy and Rothman forming an unusual romantic triangle with Ellie in which both men quietly vie for her attention. On-screen, the Ellie character calls out the way the two men sometimes talk about her as if she's not there, and then she leaves, resulting in a scene, crafted by Simmons, in which the men talk about her in her absence that feels framed through her perspective. Simmons quietly touches on what feels like insecurities, in the way Meryl, and Ellie's friend (Blair Brown) seem breathlessly busy, making Ellie's freedom to go on vacation seem like a backhanded compliment. When Meryl and Ellie talk about the good times they had as teacher and student, Meryl reflects not on Ellie's advice or wisdom, but her end-of-semester pizza party.

Structurally, the film has a light touch, drifting in and out of the recreations of classic films that make up Ellie's project and the "real-world" narrative. The movie feels both breezy and substantive, packing various character beats and art sequences into a brisk 87 minutes. More than anything, the element that ties it all together is not so much in the writing, editing, or story, but in the basic warmth and humanity of the movie, which bursts with humor and deftly observed emotion. If the title of My Art represents a promise, it certainly feels like one that Simmons has fulfilled.

The Blu-ray
My Art uses a striking image for its cover, from the beginning of the movie, where Ellie is sitting in an exhibit involving chairs on the roof of a musem. Although the art is eye-catching, having seen the film, it feels like an image from Ellie's art rather than someone else's installation might've made more sense (even if the image is still something Simmons crafted). Nitpicky, but a thought. The one-disc release comes in an cheap-feeling Amaray, and there is a booklet in the case advertising other Film Movement releases. Oddly, this DVD does not have the customary statement by the company as to why they selected it and the comment from the director, and the cover appears to be laser printed, like an MOD release, even though the DVD is pressed.

The Video and Audio
My Art is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that I have mixed feelings about. The colors pop with vivid accuracy, and detail is often good, but there's also a persistent feeling of softness or murkiness to the image, one layer of lacking clarity that keeps the video from really looking great. Perhaps it's the fact that the film is so striking, viewing the movie on DVD feels sort of like watching on a slightly degraded HD video stream, one step from clicking over to a sharper picture. Sound is a fine Dolby Digital 5.1 track that accurately captures the dialogue and music with no issues, and there is a 2.0 track included as well, for some reason.

The Extras
One extra is included, an audio commentary by writer/director/actor Laurie Simmons. Simmons has a tendency to describe what's on screen, but those narrative tendencies do tend to develop into stories about the making of the film. She also, unsurprisingly, talks about being an artist, and some of the experiences or processes that she wanted to convey in the film.

Trailers for Bad Lucky Goat, Shadowman, Moka, and Film Movement World Cinema play before the main menu.

My Art is a quiet but dazzling little gem that resists easy summarization. It simultaneously examines the process, the result, and the inspirations all at once, and does so through a breezy story that feels human rather than explanatory. Highly recommended.

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