The brains behind Velvet Buzzsaw, Netflix’s latest feature length production intent on Skewering Art Luvvies Everywhere, seem to have taken Ellington’s warning at face value. Sail with us through the calm blue waters of Art Basel LA, auction houses and expos, studios and exquisite apartments to gawp at the beautifully dressed sharks beneath the surface.
So: meet Josephina, a latte-toting lacky with Big Dreams and Great Clothes. She’s conducting a disinterested-cum-strategic affair with taste-maker and life-ruiner, critic Morf Vanderwalt. Josephina works for Rhodora Haze, cut-throat Tough Cookie™ who has fought her way to the top of her game despite The Odds (whatever they might have been). Her gallery represents the Old Miser-Genius (Piers, played by John Malkovich), disenchanted with the content mill which success has made him. Meanwhile, a sub-plot sees his foil – Fresh Young Talent Damrish (Daveed Diggs) – squarely in Rhodora’s cross-hares, teetering on the threshold of corruptibility. For the non-initiate, bad art-world-chat can sound like a lot of proper-nouns, dropped into sentences constructed purely to showcase them. Darling, did you see So and So at So and So? It was curated by So and So – you know, that girl who worked for So and So before she came to So and So. Such is most of Velvet Buzzsaw’s dialogue. It’s meant to show us how pretentious the characters are, but it doesn’t do the film’s watch-ability any favours. If you don’t work in art, you’ll be googling lingo and job descriptions to keep up; if you do, you’ll be eye-rolling at the name drops, uncomfortable references and shop talk. When the art starts wreaking its (very literal) revenge, then, we’re not too upset to see the cast walk the plank one by one after Josephina topples the first domino in a chain. Finding a collection of paintings when a tenant in her building dies, she begins down a path which will see her roundly punished for daring to make any money from what she’s interested in.