Art School Confidential (2006)


To view Art School Confidential click here.

Director Terry Zwigoff got his start with a short documentary about an obscure country-blues musician that was titled Louie Blue (1985). In 1994 he hit the big time with Crumb, another documentary but this time one focused on the famous underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. Crumb won countless awards and featured an amazing soundtrack full of “’78s of the late 1920s and early ’30s – jazz, blues, ragtime, and country music.” Continuing on in the liner notes to the soundtrack, Zwigoff adds: “This music seemed to fit the film somehow anyway. I’m glad, because by the time I was through with all the post-production, editing, sound-cutting, mixing, etc., I’d been forced to listen to these tunes hundreds of times each. Glad I started out with music I loved or it would have been sheer torture.” Seven years later Crumb was followed by Ghost World. Two years after that, improbably (and I say that because, really, who could have anticipated it): Bad Santa. Then, in 2006, Zwigoff made Art School Confidential, centered on a fictional art school based on Pratt Institute, and which somehow ties everything together insofar as all three of Zwigoff’s fiction films were written by Pratt Institute alumni.

Screenwriter Daniel Clowes explains that “the origin of Art School Confidential came from going to art school back for four years back in the late seventies, early eighties (where he was) not really learning much about art, but feeling like I had a great experience that would make for a great story. It was a world filled with great characters. I would say that art school was to me what Vietnam was to Oliver Stone, in that I have so many stories that I could tell about art school.”

Art_School_Confidential_2006_14What gets captured? The hope and aspiration of young aspiring art students, sure. Then there’s John Malkovich: “I just found it really amusing, the idea of all these kind of talentless jerks in an art school. It just seems very funny to me. And the teachers are even more talentless than the students.”Zwigoff: “This film is rather about a flawed deviant played by Max Mingehella who plays the lead, Jerome, who is an 18-year-old student who goes to art school. He has a dream of making it as an artist, gets obsessed with this model in an art class, played by Sophia Myles, trying to gain possession of her. He sort of unravels after that.”Sophia Myles’s character (Audrey) gets presented as a “classic, cold, beautiful, Hitchcockian blonde straight out of Vertigo.” Minghella’s character (Jerome) is a kid from the suburbs, an aspiring artist who travels to New York. And here’s where the plot thickens with the introduction of another student, Jonah (Matt Keeslar). Jonah is older and receives many accolades, but what is yet to be discovered is that he’s also an undercover police detective who has been sent to art school in order to solve the mysterious murders of various people around campus.

Zwigoff’s murder mystery deftly weaves between black comedy and college drama and moves adroitly from Teddy Bears to testicles – because, hey! – this is  art school.

While Art House Confidential lacks the concentrated power of watching Billy Bob Thornton chew up every Christmas tree in sight, and doing this while spewing memorable dialogue that is purposefully meant to offend everyone, Art School Confidential does present viewers with a memorable flashback to college days, albeit ones coated with that extra bit of sparkle that comes courtesy of including the likes of Jim Broadbent (in a stand-out role), Steve Buscemi, Anjelica Huston, and that reliable curmudgeon to beat all other eccentrics, John Malkovich (who also helped produce the film).

Pablo Kjolseth

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