Monday, May 8, 2006

Art School Confidential

A painter I knew in Austin, who had attended art school at UT, once told me that he asked one of his instructors if he knew how to draw Bullwinkle. When the instructor confessed that he couldn't render a depiction of the cartoon moose, my friend concluded that his instructor was unqualified to teach him and dropped out of the program.

For those who attended art school or knew anyone who did or have any familiarity with the art world, Art School Confidential will be an enjoyable film. Although the portrayal is no where near as nuanced as that of Claire Fisher's art school career in Six Feet Under, Zwigoff and Clowes fairly well lampoon the pretensions and politics of art school. The movie abounds with in-jokes, from the name of the school to the often dead-on parodies of art student projects [Zwigoff and Clowes ring much truer on this than the too-professional-by-half LAC-Arts pieces depicted in Six Feet Under]. The film also skewers the types one tends to find in such programs [although that might be like shooting fish in a barrel] and is adept at parodying the art-star and theory-heavy tendencies of the contemporary art world [one is tempted to point to Matthew Barney as Exhibit A of this phenomenon if it weren't for the fact that the beauty, humor and audacity of his work allows one to forgive the deficiencies of much of its content].

What the film doesn't do is deliver particularly strong characters. Since the story hangs on an innocent, young artist who becomes corrupted by his aspirations [shades of Pierre and Lost Illusions] Max Minghella's Jerome makes for a particularly soft center. John Malkovich and Jim Broadbent offset this somewhat as his erstwhile mentors, but the strength of Art School Confidential lies mainly with the ideas presented by Clowes and Zwigoff, not with the characters embodying them. Still it's a funny movie and, although nowhere near as good as Crumb or Bad Santa, bears watching [albeit as a rental].


  1. Say, I have an interview with Clowes from last fall floating around someplace in which I was trying to get some previews of the film out of the fellow - lemme see if i can dig it up. Worst comes to worst, I can post the audio.
    The original Art School Confidential came out while I was finishing my art history degree, and it was an instant and white hot hit in the balck-turtlenecked hallways of dear old IU.

  2. You have an interview with Clowes and you didn't publish it? For shame!
    I also remember the original Art School Confidential from Eightball. The film definitely draws from its humor, but I don't think it adapts many of the jokes from that strip.
    BTW, in the department of interesting coincidences, I also studied art history. One of the projects I tried doing was a paper on Gary Panter, for which I interviewed him for a couple of hours. This was back in 1985, but I might just still have the tapes somewhere.

  3. I'd love to hear those tapes. '85? right about when the first Jimbo collection came out, pre pee-wee. Must have been an interesing time to talk to him.
    I did the Clowes interview for a feature in a mag I write for, Now Playing. I didn't transcribe the whole thing, as I recall.
    My movie thing is fan films and you may recall that kid-shot VHS recreation of Raiders of the Lost Ark at NWFF last fall. Clowes is the initial screenwriter on a currently preproduction adaptation of the story of the kids' shoot.

  4. When I interviewed Panter, Jimbo was published. He had already worked on the stage version of Pee Wee's Playhouse [which was subsequently broadcast on HBO] and he and Rubens had also collaborated on an early version of the Big Adventure script. So, yes, it was an interesting time for him. He was still living in LA, but within a year he would be divorced, living in Brooklyn and working on the Pee Wee's Playhouse show we all love and remember.
    I'll see if I can find the tapes somewhere. I was a painfully bad interviewer then, but Panter was a good talker. Among other things, he related his disappointment over Zappa's hatred of the album covers he designed for Sleep Dirt, Studio Tan and Orchestral Favorites.
    I heard about Clowes's script for the Raiders remake when I saw it at NWFF. Look forward to seeing the final film.
    BTW, on a unrelated note, it was on that visit to LA that I spotted Robin Zander in a mongolian barbeque joint.