There used to be a time when conservatives railed against grievance-mongering, a time when complaints about perceived slights and inadequate representations in the mass media — “Gay Inuits with PTSD are statistically underrepresented in the fall TV lineup!” — were dismissed with a snort and a chuckle.
As the culture wars progressed, however, conservatives became more comfortable in the role of victim. Seeing how well it worked, how much it riled up the base and spurred sympathetic coverage, they took to complaining about things — underrepresentation of conservative points of view, foul language and overt sexuality, lack of respect for religious beliefs — in language eerily reminiscent of that employed by the PC police years ago.
The latest opportunity to showcase their outrage came after a recent episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” during which a splash of urine was mistaken for a tear on a painting of Christ.
Blasphemy! they cried. This would never be done to another religion, like Islam, they scolded. They’re so brave, came another sarcastic reply, arguing that attacking the sacred cows of the left would be a far dicier proposition in the artistic community, one that might actually risk personal and business relationships. That would take real courage.
It’s easy enough to be against something — but given the chance to be for something, will the right spring to the ramparts in the same manner?
A new indie film “(Untitled)” puts that question to the test.
“(Untitled)” isn’t a conservative film in any narrowly doctrinaire sense of the word. It isn’t a Randian broadside against “the looters” trying to implement socialized medicine. It isn’t a rousing war epic in the vein of “300” or “The Longest Day.” It isn’t a terrible parody film that takes cheap shots against easy targets such as Michael Moore.
Instead, “(Untitled)” goes after postmodernism — specifically, postmodern art.
Brothers Adrian and Josh Jacobs (Adam Goldberg and Eion Bailey, respectively) are artists of different temperaments. Adrian’s a sound artist whose musical arrangements include bucket-kicking and vinyl-squeaking; Josh is more successful, a painter whose compositions are less challenging than his brother’s cacophonous noise but far more popular.
Josh’s popularity with corporate types doesn’t win him what he desires, however: a showing in the avant-garde art gallery owned by Madeleine Gray (Marley Shelton). Madeleine has been content to sell his art — it keeps her afloat financially, in fact — but she refuses to show his work because it will diminish her credibility with the artiste set.
Instead, she shows art that can only be described as hideous. One exhibited artist is Ray Barko (Vinnie Jones), whose work resembles a taxidermist’s office by way of Derrida: Animals are stuffed and put into odd positions and splashed with makeup as a “comment” on society.
Another show consists of little more than items from a home placed onto a wall. A thumb tack (“Pushpin Stuck Into Wall”), for example, or a flickering lightbulb. In the world of New York’s hipster pomo set, this is what passes for art.
As Josh becomes more and more frustrated by Madeleine’s sensibilities, he finally blows his stack, yelling out, “When did beauty become so… ugly?”
“(Untitled)” is by no means a defense of banality in art, and Josh’s art is nothing if not banal — his painted canvases of soothing colors dotted with the occasional sphere line the hallways of corporate meeting rooms and hospitals. Instead, “(Untitled)” searches for the midpoint between banality and absurdity, doing so in a way that is likely to please lovers of both modern and classical art.
Again, this isn’t a fire-breathing conservative tract. It’s far more subtle than that. But it is a celebration of art and, in large part, a rejection of the turn the artistic avant-garde has taken over the last few decades.
It’s a relatively brave rejection at that: Those who argue that Hollywood is uniformly too timid to attack its own sacred cows would do well to recognize it. We shall see if they do.
• SONNY BUNCH can be reached at email@example.com.
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