Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
Words by Hiba Akmal
Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
Meet Rhodora Haze - Haze Gallery owner, Josephina - her protege turned rival and Morf Vandewalt - art critic/resident dandy, in this bizarre series of events that send glamour and snobbery to a cathartically undignified end. In ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’, high brow art, material opulence and moral poverty collide to indulge your fantasies of glamour and satisfy your need for graphic retribution.
This was a strange one. But perhaps, holding a mirror up to the vapid and insular lifes of high-brow society can only be done through a lens of absurdist satire. There is no one singular ‘Screen Queen’ here per say, rather, two anti-queens and one…. slightly less un-sympathizable screen prince (note, delegated in stature to his female colleagues). But their performances are all equally abhorrent. Marvellous.
You cannot bring yourself to like Rhodora Haze- Haze gallery owner, Josephina - her assistant turned protege/rival or Morf Vandewalt - the art critic whose words defile and consecrate livelihoods in one scathing review. Our excursion into their elitist bubble will affirm (hyperbolically so) all the most extreme stereotypes of their narcissism and vanity. SO, perhaps you will come to enjoy the gory and comical ends to which they each in turn succumb. Again perhaps with the slight exception of Vandervault, who, upon finally applying his introspective skills to his own existence, realizes that the providence of art and beauty does not proffer a license for unchecked greed.
Velvet Buzzsaw is a satire that mangles high art with gaudy horror and a star-studded cast to bring you two hours of social-commentary glazed with absurdist and comical grief. Think...Vogue meets ‘Final Destination’ but the deaths feel less senseless because the characters’ intolerable vanity and narcissism (on top of their sheer stupidity) can only rightfully end with punishment severe
Minus that necessary gore the film is aesthetically satisfying - allowing you to indulge that innate human love for glamour and decadent display. Rhodora is a fabulous dame with a hard edge reminiscent of her rocker origins. Short cut hair, leopard print pencil skirts, stilettos and always a sharp, bold lip. Sadly, Josephina’s aesthetic progresses with her moral decline. In fact, her most impressive outfit is the one in which she meets her end. That lilac cloak awesomely billowing in the winds that foreshadow her demise. Let us take a moment to appreciate the fashion before it gets soiled in blood and guts…
SO basically, Josephina (Zawe Ashton) is working for Rhodora (the glamorous Rene Russo), ex rocker girl turned gallery owner/ extortionist & Morf Vandewault (Jake Gyllenhaul) is the prolific art critic. Josephina lands the art jackpot when she tressapsses her deceased aneighbour's apartment to find reams of his abandoned artwork cascading from wall to wall . It’s deep, it’s dark, it’s tinged with violence , and most importantly, it’s LUCRATIVE.
But things start to go wrong...the bewitching quality of the art….it turns out has a vengeful life of its own. A force resurrecting the criminally insane history of its maker, sealed into canvas with blood infused pigments which immortalize his torment. And one by one, the members of the vapid art world begin to drop like flies. Any one who profited or attempted to profit from the works meets a grizzly end. Josephina is drowned in a whirlpool of paint and blood, from which I don’t believe the lilac blouse could ever be salvaged. Poor old Vandawault is strangled in a dingy art basement by a robot and Rhodorda is hacked away when the buzz-saw tattoo on the back of her own neck comes whirring back to life.
But what’s the takeaway? Maybe we're not meant to glean one profound message from so absurd, but indulge me. I’d like to think that the art was a metaphor for the cancerous greed that sweeps through the world of it’s devotees - certainly the entire film is a criticism based on this observation. It’s taken on a life of its own, detached from it’s creative origins and now art is not about art but about money, prestige and success - a drive that is monstrously acted upon by those who’ve gotten addicted to the thrill.