Blu-ray Review: (Untitled) (2009)

Now Available to Own

Art doesn't always have to make a statement nor must art always entertain. As incredibly hard as it is to remain objective about something so subjective, ultimately what's art to one person is something entirely different to another.

Can you make art if nobody else is there to witness, judge and possibly appreciate it or is the concept of art only defined by success, whether commercial or critical?

Controversial, conversational, confrontational, contradictory, commercial and even comical, art is all around us. Thus fittingly, given the fact that film is an artistic medium in its own right, the world of art has been frequently used as cinematic fodder for those dissecting these issues onscreen.

And this is evidenced right from the start in this eccentric satire from Bartleby helmer Jonathan Parker, which explores the thin line between creativity and catastrophe being walked by two New York based brothers trying to make a name for themselves in painting and music.

Even though he can't get a show in a gallery or hang one of his canvases in the MoMA, Josh Jacobs (Eion Bailey) has amassed a small fortune creating colorfully upbeat but blandly safe works purchased by the truckload by hotels and hospitals.

Essentially, Josh’s work is treated like a “dirty little secret” of the pretentious art gallery owned by Madeline (Marley Shelton). Tucking away his paintings in the back room from the eyes of discerning collectors, Madeline uses the commission money earned from Josh's lucrative sales to keep her self-consciously strange art space running.

Whether she's championing a taxidermist who doesn't even stuff his own animals and strings a necklace on a cow and calls it art or an odd hermit whose “work” consists of a pushpin stuck in a wall, Madeline hosts as many shows as she can of envelope pushing, taste questioning material to get people talking.

Is she serious or is it all some great big tongue-in-cheek joke?

It's the same question you'll undoubtedly ask yourself when Madeline finds herself drawn to Josh's equally narcissistic, pompous brother Adrian (Adam Goldberg) who, despite a classic musical repertoire, prefers to compose cacophonous, atonally challenging nonsense that consists of a piano lid being slammed, can being kicked, and instruments being played incorrectly.

Although Madeline fans herself throughout the show and even giggles as the extremely sparse audience either leaves or grudgingly stays since they're related to Adrian by blood, she hires him to perform at her gallery and it's amusing to witness the double standard of taste as Adrian ridicules some of the people whose work she champions and others who accept the pushpin have no idea what he's trying to achieve.

Yet for all of the posturing and internal judgments we have about the two, Parker brilliantly portrays the relationship from Adrian's artistic point-of-view as a man so conscious of the sound everything makes that after a few scenes of fans, clothing, zippers etc. we begin to understand the way his naturally aural curiosity is aroused by inanimate objects.

Since Parker makes his point about the futility of defining art, senselessness of accounting for taste, and the pretentious world in which his characters live very early on, admittedly the movie does grow repetitive, thereby overstaying its welcome as it continues.

For much like the individuals that Madeline collects, the excessive weirdness of the piece threatens to overwhelm us completely by toppling the intelligence and wit with aggressive joylessness.

Similar to Parker's previous film Bartleby which was taken from a short story by Herman Melville and suffered a bit in the translation to a feature length work, you get the sense that without making at least one character a fraction more empathetic, (Untitled) would've been infinitely more successful as the type of live action short you might find playing as video installations in art galleries across the United States.

Nonetheless, it’s a sophisticated parody of the ever-changing world of art we face in this age of Lady Gaga. Moreover, (Untitled) is sure to gain a cult following now that it’s available in an impressively polished Blu-ray high definition transfer worthy of a museum showing, complete with a post-screening discussion to appreciate both the dissonance and harmony of artistic debate.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.