The premise of Velvet Buzzsaw had the makings of an incredible and unique film but it falls a little short. Writer and director Dan Gilroy teamed up with Jake Gyllenhaal for the first time since Nightcrawler in 2014 (which was Gilroy’s first time in the director seat).
The painted introduction brilliantly details the events to come without being too blatant as to give the plot away.
We settle in with Morf, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a respected art critic whose influence can make or break an artist. He’s attending the opening of a new art exhibit at a convention center. He isn’t impressed with the work.
Josephina, played by Zawe Ashton, works in the art curation world. She hasn’t progressed very far in her career, that is until she discovers the body of a neighboring tenant. Vetril Dease, the tenant, was a recluse who spent his life painting his anguish and depression, using his own blood for the dark reds and browns. The artist requested his paintings be burned; they were never intended to make a profit.
The film contemplates the meaning of art: is it simply self-expression or should it be made profitable? Many artists struggle with selling their work because they make it for themselves and no one else. The art world is pretentious and fake which contradicts the authentic nature of art.
Vetril Dease was in the process of burning his paintings, and requested the rest be destroyed and yet Josephina tries to profit off of them anyways. This is where the film gets fantastical and evil. Everyone who falls prey to the greed of the art by profiting from them dies.
The name of the film Velvet Buzzsaw comes from a punk band Rhodora Haze, played by Rene Russo, played with before selling out and becoming a bourgeois gallery owner. Rhodora still has tattoos from her punk phase, including a buzzsaw that says “Velvet Buzzsaw” on the back of her neck, and her art comes back to bite her. Rhodora precisely demonstrates the capitalist greed that art can bring out in people. Rhodora helps Josephina present Vetril Dease’s work; hoarding and hiding most of it away to increase the value to make them “rare” paintings.
The main theme of the film is the purpose of art, why we create, and who deserves to see it. Velvet Buzzsaw seems to say artists should make art for themselves, to better understand their feelings, not to gain a profit. The end credits demonstrate that, as another artist creates ephemeral art in the sand, not caring as waves wash it away.
Those who survive in the end appreciate and respect art, steering clear of the greed in the lucrative art world. There’s a lot to unpack in Velvet Buzzsaw, some viewers may walk away confused as to what they just watched, while others begin forming theories and connections immediately. The film is just a drop into the bucket that artists struggle with every day: Should they try to appeal to a buyer even if it means giving up some of their authenticity? Should an artist create just for themself even if it means going broke? As an average unartistic viewer, the meaning was heavy-handed and made me curious into each decision made by Dan Gilroy, afterall, he wrote and directed this film. One theory I was most curious about is how the painting’s curse was spread, could it be Vetril Dease’s cat or something larger? Give it a watch and let me know what you think.