Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Bullet Shih Sep, 2012 0
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Title: Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Artist: Diane Arbus
Date: 2006
Genre: Fictionalized Biography
Subcategory: New York Art Scene
Language : English
Director: Stephen Shainberg
Time: 122 min

I have to give director Stephen Shainberg credit as he did create a strange movie about an enigmatic figure in the art world.  Diane Arbus was born into a wealthy Jewish New York family that owned the famous Russek’s Furrier and Department Store on Fifth Avenue in the 50s.  Arbus married her high school sweetheart and led a rather cloistered life in Manhattan.  Arbus later shed her upper middle class shackles leaving the world of fashion photography to develop as a photographer who captured  deeply personal and moving portraits of individuals on the fringes of society.  She is quoted as saying,

Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot . . . . Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.

Arbus suffered from bouts of depression and in 1972 at age 48 she committed suicide.

In creating his portrait of Arbus, Shainburg portrays a impossible Arbus by casting Nicole Kidman to play the short dark haired woman.  In adding Robert Downey Jr. as the hirsute Lionel who is partially the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, part the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, and part Harvey the imaginary rabbit from the James Stewart classic,  Shainburg personifies Arbus’s wanderlust and derring do.  The film also focuses on the minutae of the set design which runs counter to Arbus’s intent focus of the shear force of her indvidual subjects often with very little background detail.

Interesting tidbits:  The film was partially based on the unauthorized biography Arbus, written in 1984 by Patrica Bosworth.  The book was criticized for making unsubstantiated claims about Arbus’s personal life as well as her sex life.  However, Arbus’s oldest daughter Doon who managed her mother’s estate after her death was quite restrictive regarding access to the images and her mother’s correspondences.  Not surprisingly, Doon is not portrayed in the film in the most positive light.

Geek tidbits:  Around 1962, Arbus switched from a 35mm Nikon camera to a twin-lens reflex Rolleiflex camera that was prominently featured in the film.  It was with this camera that she was able to take her large scale square format photos.


Art Geek Factor:3 out of 10 Stars
Artistic Accuracy: 5 out of 10 Stars
Overall Movie: 5 out of 10 Stars

Summary: This is a beautifully shot movie with impeccable detail and a Mad Men 50s vibe.  It portrays a woman who looks to opt out of the cookie cutter life she was expected to lead.  Unfortunately, the addition of Robert Downey Jr. as the hairy love interest and guide to New York’s underworld, diminishes the courageous choices made by the talented and enigmatic Arbus.  The result is a fairly insipid meandering love story rather than a gutty portrayal of one of the titans of 20th century photography.

Readers Movie Ratings:

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Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, 6.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

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