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Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Steven Shainberg

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus was a great American photographer who took pictures of such lacerating abjection that it seemed inevitable when she committed suicide at the age of 48. Tragically, Steven Shainberg’s "imaginary portrait” of the artist captures none of the qualities of her photography, resorting instead to an annoying preciousness she would surely have abhorred. The film picks up with Arbus (Nicole Kidman) in 1958 in a world ill-suited for her eventual shots of freaks, outsiders and other anguished bodies; she’s just at the cusp of rejecting the domesticity embodied by husband Allan (Ty Burrell) but needs that extra push. The nascent artist gets her helping hand in the form of new neighbour Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey, Jr.), a man covered head to toe in thick hair (and also the veteran of a freak show). As she tentatively approaches this new friend and is introduced to his demimonde of associates, wouldn’t you know it, she finds herself. It’s as if the film was designed for Oprah — though beautifully designed and photographed, it’s conventional all the way in its admonition to tap the fire within and be true to yourself. Shainberg is so twee in his rendering of the churning emotions at play that his film is frequently risible when it’s trying to be the most gut thumping. You want to shake this movie to see if anything more interesting falls out — the material is so dependent on the surface that it can’t hope but look puny next to the body of work that inspired it. Extras include a director’s commentary that’s just as precious as the movie itself, an okay episode of HBO First Look on the film and two deleted scenes with optional director commentary. (Alliance Atlantis)
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