The Keen Reproduction of Art

Big Eyes

big_eyes_ver2

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Krysten Ritter, Jon Polito

Golden Globe winner Amy Adams (American Hustle) gives a sterling and nuanced performance as the American artist Margaret Keane in director Tim Burton’s 1960’s San Francisco set drama Big Eyes.

Whilst Margaret Keane was more commercial and was certainly not in the same vein of other celebrated female artists like Frida Kahlo or Georgia O’Keefe, her rise to fame as the painter of the Big Eyes series is certainly extraordinary and filled with intrigue. In a chauvinist society of the late 1950’s it was unheard of for a woman to leave her husband, and this is what the brave Margaret Keane does leaving upstate California for the more liberal art community of San Francisco with her young daughter Jane in tow, the true inspiration for her Big Eyes series.

In San Francisco Margaret becomes enchanted with the smooth talking Walter Keane, a budding artist but a commercial realtor by trade. Walter Keane, claiming to have spent some time in Paris, is wonderfully if slightly overplayed by Austrian actor and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds). After a quick marriage, Walter soon recognizes the commercial potential of his wife Margaret’s art, which mainly consisted of paintings using oils and mixed media of women, children and animal with unusually big eyes.

big_eyes

After an initial showing of the works in a San Francisco nightclub, Walter Keane claims that he is the artist of these works and when commercial success strikes thanks to the purchasing of several painting by the heir to the Olivetti fortune, Walter Keane soon opens his own gallery, simply called the Keane Gallery where the posters of the paintings sell more than the actual art itself.

Before Andy Warhol, Keane was the pioneer of pop art and although the works weren’t particularly imaginative, there was something inspiring and commercially viable about the big eyes paintings.

However the plot twist to Burton’s film Big Eyes, is Margaret Keane’s desperate bid for freedom from her deranged husband after she discovers that Walter was not the artist he claimed to be. Margaret Keane with daughter in tow flees to Honolulu in Hawaii and then after a sort of spiritual rebirth whereby she ironically becomes a Jehovah’s Witness, she claims that she was the original artist of the Big Eyes series on Hawaii radio much to the horror of the American art world. The rest as they say is artistic legal history.

As a film about art, Big Eyes does not match up to similar films such as the brilliant Pollock, Frida or even the late Robert Altman’s film Vincent and Theo, but as a story about the crazy commercialization of art over any form of visual integrity, Big Eyes is a fascinating cinematic adventure, more so because its true.

Amy Adams is mesmerizing as the tortured and vulnerable Margaret Keane, and makes this real life story as bizarre as it really occurred, believable and informative. Watch out for priceless cameos by Jason Schwartzman (Marie Antoinette, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as a snobby art dealer, Terence Stamp (Valkyrie; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) as senior New York Times art critic John Canaday and Danny Huston (Hitchcock, Birth) as San Francisco journalist Dan Nolan who initially befriends the charismatic yet crazy Walter Keane.

Big Eyes is recommended viewing for students of Pop Art, lovers of films about artists and for those that appreciate an informative tale of a really extraordinary woman, Margaret Keane –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Keane who despite the age she lived in eventually become famous in her own right.

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