Retro Review: PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT: A Passionate Ode to a Remarkable Woman Who Changed the Face of Modern Art

Posted on: Nov 25th, 2015 By:

peggy_guggenheim_art_addictPEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT (2015); DIR. Lisa Immordino Vreeland; Documentary; Opens Wed. Nov. 27; Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema; Trailer here.

By Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

The name “Guggenheim” is synonymous with the art world. The ludicrously affluent Guggenheim family dominated the worlds of both industry and high society, and the influence they had on the early part of the 20th century will not likely be soon forgotten. They also had their fair share of family drama and quite a few “black sheep,” the most famous of whom is the subject of Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s latest documentary, PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT. Vreeland maps Guggenheim’s colorful life from her beginnings as a flighty heiress embracing bohemia to her later years as a famed art collector desperate to relive her past. With insightful commentary from Guggenheim’s old friends and relatives, and even excerpts from the last interview featuring Guggenheim herself, this film is truly introspective and should not be missed.

Peggy was born in 1898 to Benjamin Guggenheim, the brother of American businessman/art collector/philanthropist Solomon Guggenheim, and Florette Seligman, the daughter of a lesser known high society family. She found herself surrounded by both oddity and tragedy at a young age. Many of her family members ranged from mildly eclectic to highly unstable, and Peggy absorbed it all. When her father died in the sinking of the Titanic, she felt isolated within her own family.

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Peggy left for Paris in 1920 at the age of 22 and became enamored with the free-spirited nature of the bohemian community. She took many lovers, and became close with some of the most innovative artists of the time, including Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. She married her first husband and had two children in Paris, and quickly divorced once his infidelity came to light. Undeterred, Peggy had affairs with multiple married men and continued her avant-garde lifestyle. She moved to London and opened her first gallery, Guggenheim June, where she promoted the art of her colleagues, most of which were either Surrealist or abstract in nature. With Europe entering a time of unrest, Peggy packed up her collection and headed back to New York.

One of the most compelling portions of PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT is the narrative of her years in New York City. It became clear to Peggy that the artists she had come to love would be in imminent danger were they to stay in Europe. So she arranged to have both creator and creations moved to the states, and bought many of their works to feature in her new gallery. The museum, appropriately titled Art of This Century, was a haven for up-and-coming artistic movements, such as Abstract Expressionism, as well as one of the first well-known galleries to feature exhibits consisting solely of the works of female artists.

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Peggy continued to discover new artists, including the then little-known Jackson Pollock, and promote them to mainstream success. She also continued her liberated lifestyle by sleeping with many of her peers, a habit she felt no shame over. She had wed one of the artists she had brought from Europe, the famed Max Ernst, but the marriage proved to be a failure and she divorced a second time. That separation proved to be a catalyst of change, and Guggenheim closed Art of This Century and headed back to Europe, this time making her place in a Venetian Palace.

This palace would soon become home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of the most visited art museums in Europe. Peggy lived with her collection in Venice and entertained many guests, both artists and members of high society. Robert De Niro, being the son of artists Guggenheim had promoted, was one of Guggenheim’s many visitors. In the film, he recalls his time spent with the collector in her palace.

But while Peggy seemed to be socially thriving, her life was proving to be remarkably lonely. Her son, Sindbad Vail, who spent his childhood with her first husband, rejected the art world, and her daughter, Pegeen, was highly unstable. Pegeen lived with Peggy in Venice and was prone to “fits” that Peggy could not learn to control. She committed suicide in 1967, and Peggy was left alone in her massive palace with only her art and her dogs by her side.

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

The film does a wonderful job of illustrating Peggy’s desire to return to the past, with bits from her last interview expressing the despair she felt as she aged. After spending her life promoting others, it seemed as if no one was left to promote her well-being when she needed it the most.

Guggenheim passed in 1979, leaving behind both a legacy of sordid tales and a massive collection of art. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection still attracts visitors from around the world and proves to be a testament of Peggy’s keen eye for art of the most fantastic and enduring nature. PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT proves to be a passionate ode to one of the most overlooked roles in the art world – that of the sponsor – and the vital role these individuals play in the beginning of a sensation. Peggy Guggenheim is the sponsor we should all look up to, and her legacy is lovingly brought to life in this fabulous documentary.

All images are for review purposes only and used with permission.

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Splatter Cinema, Enjoy the Film and the Cinevision Screening Room Paint Wall Street Red With an AMERICAN PSYCHO!

Posted on: May 11th, 2015 By:

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Splatter Cinema
and Enjoy the Film present AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000); Dir. Mary Harron; Starring Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Chloë Sevigny, Willem Dafoe and Jared Leto; Wednesday, May 13 @ 8:30 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room; Tickets $10 (cash only); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema has returned—this time backed by a successful Kickstarter campaign to pre-fund this month’s screening. Once again teaming up with ATLRetro Kool Kat Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film and the Cinevision Screening Room, Splatter continues into its seventh year of savagery with its mission still intact—to deliver the buckets of blood and delightful scenes of slaughter that make life worth living. This time around, Christian Bale drenches the screen with gore in Mary Harron’s turn-of-the-millennium classic AMERICAN PSYCHO!

Sometimes the most annoying question a movie geek like me can face when talking about an adaptation of a novel is this: “How does it compare to the book?” My gut reaction is that it’s a pointless exercise to compare the two. One speaks in a written language, one visual. They use completely different modes of expression. The only thing the two media really have in common is that they tend to be storytelling ventures. But beyond that, it’s like comparing rhubarb to a Jackson Pollock painting. You can do it, and even say that one is better than the other, but it’s kind of a fool’s errand.

american-psycho-book-cover-01However, since I’m feeling foolish, let me just say for the record that the film AMERICAN PSYCHO is far better than the novel. How can I say that? Easy. I can’t stand the novel, yet I love the movie. I dunno. Maybe I don’t like rhubarb.

Requisite plot summary: Patrick Bateman is a young Wall Street banker in the late 1980s that kills people in his spare time. The casual ruthlessness needed for success in his job extends to his personal life, in which he sees people as nothing more than walking slabs of meat, their lives holding no more importance than their business cards.

Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel was something of a cause célèbre at the time of its publication, having been rejected by Simon & Schuster before being picked up for a trade paperback release by Vintage Books. Widespread outrage over the book’s content (specifically its gratuitous depictions of violence against women) generated acres of press coverage, vehement debate and calls for the novel to be pulled from distribution. Being curious about all the hubbub and brouhaha, I picked it up. And the chief impression that the book left was just how banal and glib it all was – shallow depictions of a shallow life punctuated by shallow descriptions of nauseatingly graphic violence. It seemed completely cut adrift from itself, accidentally being a prime example of what it ostensibly criticizes. Unlike, say, Chuck Palahniuk, Ellis never reveals anything beneath the surface of his cipher-esque characters. Whereas the nameless, catalog-shopping narrator of FIGHT CLUB becomes increasingly complex and interesting over the course of the story’s development; Patrick Bateman just simply is what he is. And for a character with more depth, that may be all you need. But for a character that doesn’t extend beyond the mask of humanity he wears, it’s not enough. And in a work in which nobody else lives beyond the surface, which doesn’t even seem to believe that anything beyond the surface even exists, it simply comes off as a lazy portrait (or even an embrace) of a lifestyle rather than a pointed critique of that lifestyle.

On top of that, its jokes fall flat and its vaunted scenes of violence seem shoehorned in for nothing more than attention-grabbing shock value. (In fact, Ellis held off on writing any of the violent passages until he finished the book, going back to research serial killers and write depictions of murder and AmericanPsycho_B2_Japan-1-500x698mayhem to insert into the narrative at a later date. And it feels like it.) And the novel never seems to know precisely what its target is. Is it about how desensitized we’ve become to violence? Is it about Patrick Bateman as the perfect distillation of capitalism, making mincemeat of others in order to advance in the world, as a kind of slasher film equivalent of WALL STREET’s (1987) Gordon Gekko? Is it about the glib surface-living culture of the 1980s? Is it simply a reflection of the life and mindset that Ellis admits to living at the time of the novel’s writing? Ellis never seems sure, and couches his indecision (which ends up feeling like he just doesn’t care what it’s about) in quasi-literary pretension and stylistic fakery.

I really hate this book, in case you haven’t caught on.

So when I heard back in the day that it was going to be made into a movie, I was less than excited. I mean, Hollywood had managed to turn Ellis’ similarly shallow morality tale, LESS THAN ZERO (1987) into a movie with even less depth than the novel. But then the news came down that the adaptation was both written and directed by women—not just women, but, gloriously, feminists!—something that I (correctly) hoped would bring a certain sense of smart irony to the film, given the absolutely rampant misogyny of the novel. To make matters even better, their screenplay was chosen over one written by Bret Easton Ellis himself. The check marks in the “plus” column were soon vastly outnumbering those under the “minus” heading.

And the movie succeeds on almost every level in which the novel fails. The screenplay by director Mary Harron and GO FISH (1994) screenwriter Guinevere Turner brings the latent humor lurking in Ellis’ novel to life, while amping up the sense of sickening horror surrounding Bateman’s crimes, which are so blandly and matter-of-factly depicted in the original source. Rather than embracing the attitudes of the novel, the film slyly and wittily american-psycho-2000transforms the book’s depictions of women into a comment on male vanity and competitiveness. Meanwhile, Christian Bale’s performance also manages to transcend the source material, giving us a Bateman with an intensity and (at times) frenzied energy that belies his character’s detachment and superficiality. And the end result is a film that is focused. All of the things that felt like directionless elements in the novel—the misogyny, the over-the-top ultraviolence, the preening narcissism, the steady divorcing of the protagonist from “reality”—now have an aim and a purpose: to show Bateman as the perfect embodiment of an American dream gone sour. Climbing atop and feeding upon the corpses of those beneath him, devaluing anyone that stands in his way, and growing further and further out of touch with the rest of the world and yet he succeeds. Not in spite of his particular brand of American psychosis, but because of it. This is what is expected of you, the film seems to say, and then openly mocks the society that calls for it. Maybe it’s because Mary Harron is a Canadian and can view America from a skeptical distance while still being close enough to grasp the details—the same quality that I think helps to make Jen & Sylvia Soska’s similarly themed and titled film AMERICAN MARY (2013) work so well. Or maybe it’s that the intervening decade has allowed Harron to take on the 1980s Yuppie culture with a more knowing eye than the still-too-close 1991 novel. But no matter the reason, Mary Harron’s film captures a particular type of mindset from a particular age perfectly and then skewers it with wit and perfect technique, leaving us to identify its lingering traces today.

So no matter how you may have felt about the novel, there’s no need to fear that this adaptation doesn’t do it justice. If you loved Ellis’ book, you’ll find a movie that easily snares the essence of what you find rewarding in it. If you loathed the novel, then you’ll find a movie that does exactly what Ellis was splattersticker (2)likely trying to do, and does it miles better. And you can’t ask for a better team of people to bring this film to you—Splatter Cinema always makes their screenings fun, and Ben Ruder knows how movies ought to look on the big screen. So get there early, get your picture taken with Patrick Bateman and maybe enjoy some Huey Lewis & the News while you’re waiting. It may not be hip to be square, but if you’re not there, that’s what you’ll be.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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