Legal download: The art world on demand

The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in Legal Download, we survey the landscape of online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, we paint a picture of VOD movies about the art world.

THIS WEEK’S THEME: Movies About Art

Movies are an art form unto themselves, very different from painting or drawing or sculpting. But movies can also draw from and assimilate all kinds of fine art techniques: we often say that a director has created “painterly” images, or that he’s “drawing” rich characters; Andrei Tarkovsky’s book on film was called Sculpting in Time. In these five films, you’ll see directors grappling with what it means to be an artist or an art lover, a creator or a consumer. You can consume all five of them yourself immediately, right from the comfort of your own home.

On SundanceNow
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
$4.99 to rent or stream; $19.99 to purchase

So much in the art world is made of value: how much is this painting or that sculture worth in comparison with others. Fundamental to the idea of value is the idea of reproduction; the original is considered valuable, the copies considerably less so. But can a copy have a value beyond a monetary one? Is a copy really any less worthwhile than an original? That’s the fascinating subject of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s CERTIFIED COPY, which stars Juliette Binoche as an art dealer on a drive through the Italian countryside with an author (William Shimell) who has just written a book on the subject of art originals and copies. They seem like strangers at first, but later during the trip, they begin to act like a married couple. What is real? And what is fake, or perhaps, a copy? Kiarostami offers few easy answers, but the search for the truth — or perhaps multiple truths — makes for an authentically original viewing experience.

On iTunes
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
$2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase; $3.99 to rent in HD

Terry Zwigoff followed up his adaptation of cartoonist Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel GHOST WORLD with an expansion of the author’s short story ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and, in the process, made one of the most hilariously black-hearted satires about art in movie history. Max Minghella stars as a college freshman majoring in art. He is a talented draftsman with a good eye and a clean, appealing style; naturally his work is denigrated and despised by his less gifted peers. Trying to find his place in a very confusing landscape of parasites, sycophants, and assholes, he comes under the influence of a burned-out graduate (a hilariously disturbing Jim Broadbent) and falls for a beautiful art model (an appealingly understated Sophia Myles) while a serial killer wreaks havoc on campus. The indifference and outright scorn that met ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL upon its initial release only validates its jaundiced view of the art world, proving that the great artists, the ones with the guts to tell it like it is, are invariably the ones rejected by the audience.

On Amazon Instant Video
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
$2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase, or free for Amazon Prime members

Kirk Douglas was one of the most intense onscreen presences in the history of the movies. So who better to play Vincent Van Gogh, the legendary post-impressionist painter who once cut off his own ear and gave it to a woman (born 120 years later, Van Gogh would have made an awesome emo rocker)? It might be hard to imagine a man like Douglas conceiving something with the delicate beauty of Starry Night, but it’s pretty easy to imagine him as the sort of guy who would stick his hand over a candle for minutes on end to prove a point (side note: ouch). LUST FOR LIFE, by AN AMERICAN IN PARIS director Vicente Minnelli, won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Anthony Quinn as Van Gogh’s friend and contemporary Paul Gauguin, whose relationship with Van Gogh, the LUST FOR LIFE trailer warns in typically overheated marketing speak, “ends…IN VIOLENCE!”

On Netflix
Directed by Don Argott
Free for streaming plan members

Art heists are a popular trope in movies, but the alleged theft at the center of the documentary THE ART OF THE STEAL is a crime of an arguably far more insidious nature. Filmmaker Don Argott (ROCK SCHOOL) chronicles the struggle for control over The Barnes Foundation, a massive and immensely valuable collection of artwork that includes dozens of Renoirs, Matisses, and Picassos. Albert C. Barnes, a Philadelphia chemist and private collector, willed his art to his Foundation, where he wanted it displayed in a small, secluded facility that would never loan out or reproduce its contents. His wishes were obeyed for decades, until some powerful interests in The City of Brotherly Love, in what one talking head in the film describes as “the scandal of the art world,” thought it best to move the Barnes from its suburban home to a new facility downtown. THE ART OF THE STEAL is about what happens when art becomes an invaluable commodity, and also to our estates after we die and no one is around to protect them. It bleakly concludes that sometimes art isn’t for people; just for people with lots of money.

On YouTube
FRIDA (2002)
Directed by Julie Taymor
$1.99 to rent, $2.99 to rent in HD

In 2002, Julie Taymor, who would later turned a comic book into the most expensive and maybe the weirdest Broadway musical of all time, turned her own iconoclastic artistic passions on the story of another iconoclastic artist: Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Salma Hayek stars as Kahlo, the brilliant surrealist with the surreal unibrow, whose life was marked by debilitating injuries, a mad love affair and marriage with fellow Mexican artist Diego Rivera, and, of course, remarkable paintings. Alfred Molina plays Rivera and Edward Norton, who also did uncredited work on the screenplay, plays Nelson Rockefeller. Taymor uses clever cinematic techniques to bring Kahlo’s paintings to life, and to integrate the actors into scenery and imagery inspired by her art. The film won two Academy Awards: for Best Makeup and Best Original Score.