Last night I sat down and watched "Local Color", a film creating a bit of buzz amongst artists because...well, it's about artists. Trusty Netflix shipped it out the same day it released to DVD (Sept. 9th). I enjoy watching films in the evening, and probably watch three or four a week. My Netflix list is pretty long and in a continual state of flux. I bumped "Local Color" to the top. I wanted to see it and had no real expectations. So from 10 to 1130 I grabbed a bag of Tostitos and plopped on the couch.
Brief Plot Summary: Aspiring young artist with passion for painting discovers he lives near admired Russian Master. Said Russian Master doesn't paint anymore for unknown reasons (probably because he's an alcoholic?). Russian Master is very bitter about state of art world re. Abstract and Conceptual Art. (The film is set in the early 70's.) Young artist (18) eschews art school after cajoling Master to teach him how to paint. Pair go off together to Master's second house somewhere in Pennsylvania countryside to supposedly paint. Russian Master pulls a Miyagi on young artist getting him to paint and paper house, while at the same time dropping gems of wisdom. Young artist thinks he's being used and rebels. Anger. Tears, kissy-kissy make-up. Glory of painting.
Ok that's the basic plot; been done hundreds of times, usually in martial arts flicks. Old mentor and young pupil. Striving for perfection. yada, yada, yada....
The rating is "R" due to language, and only language. A lot of f-bombs.
The Writer/Director is George Gallo and the script is supposedly based on his real-life experiences. I wasn't aware of Mr. Gallo before the picture. Apparently he's a well-known landscape artist painting in an impressionist style. Good stuff. Mr. Gallo's own paintings are used throughout the movie as examples of the Master's work.
A large part of the movie refights the tired, old battle between representational art on one side and abstract/conceptual art on the other. You know I think that war was won, or at least an armistice was signed. Both sides take the occasional potshot across the DMZ, but it's not a hot war, at least not in my world. Perhaps some are still fighting, but the passions the movie attempts to evoke just made me yawn.
It was nice to see a Jullian easel so prominently displayed during the movie, and any movie that mentions John Carlson gets a star. The dialogue about painting was interesting. I especially like the part where the Young Artist basically asks the Master to teach him his secrets of painting, and the Master says, "Work. Just work." Of course the pupil is incredulous.
Acting: Ray Liotta was hilarious as the young artist's father. Charles Durning has a small role, played to perfection. Ron Perlman of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Hellboy" fame is a collector/gallery owner with a lisp (if you know what I mean). This was a hard character to figure out. Perlman's character is the intellectual foil to the Russian Master and he's soon made a fool for his views. Ok..., but Perlman plays the character as gay. But the guy has a wife/girlfriend? In the real world I know couples like this, but the relationship in the movie initially confused me, then got me to wondering. I'm terrible at multi-tasking, so as I was wondering I stepped out of the movie. That's not something a writer/director normally wants from a viewer.
Armin Mueller-Stahl plays Seroff, the Russian Master. Good performance- not earth shaking. Solid.
Trevor Morgan plays the young artist. Now that's bad acting. Wow...stinky bad. I hope he came cheap, because his performance wasn't worth much. Anything really. Matter-of-fact he should have paid them.
Pet Peeves: A good chunk of the movie was set in Pennsylvania. It didn't look like any part of PA I know. The light was all wrong, the vegetation and foliage were tropical, and nowhere in the film are there distant blue hills. It's flat, flat, flat. I don't think there's a corner of PA that doesn't have some blue hills in the background. Turns out the movie was filmed in Louisiana.
Note: If you're going to try to pull off changing seasons in Louisiana some red silk leaves from Michael's, styrofoam snow and a high school stage set won't work. Money issue? Then change the script.
Are there painters who can paint in a brash & slash manner and not get any paint on their nice, white t-shirt? I guess it's possible. Made me think he was a putz though.
No subtitles. This pisses me off. Why release a dvd without subtitles in 2009? Yes, I've hearing loss - too many guns shot without hearing protection. But even my kids like subtitles, even if it's just to go back and check missed dialogue.
Bottom Line: Overall the movie sucked. When I crank up the PS3 I expect/hope to be taken on a ride for about an hour and a half. Usually I can get lost in the movie within the first few minutes. "Local Color" kept ejecting me. Then I had to get up, brush the dust off and try to get back in. It was annoying. I did watch the movie to the end. I did enjoy parts of it. It's nice to see a movie about artists with artist lingo, but I would have preferred to watch a presentation by Mr. Gallo on his paintings. The paintings were the real stars.