Following his breakthrough feature, Secretary, director Steven Shainberg creates a ravishing imaginary portrait of the visionary artist Diane Arbus in his new film, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. Much as an actual Arbus photo transports us into strange and unfamiliar worlds, FUR travels through the looking glass to explore the transformation of a shy woman into a powerfully original artist. Oscar winner Nicole Kidman stars as "Diane Arbus," a devoted wife and mother whose innate talents and dark obsessions are profoundly at odds with the conventional life she leads in 1958 New York. Oscar-nominee Robert Downey Jr. co-stars as Lionel, an enigmatic new neighbor who launches Diane on her journey to becoming the artist she is meant to be.
Inspired by Patricia Bosworth's book "Diane Arbus: A Biography," Fur pays homage to a brilliant artistic talent who challenged accepted notions of beauty and ugliness, and forever changed photography through her radical techniques and subject matter. Aptly, Shainberg and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson have conjured Furnot as a biopic, but as something different and original, unique and mysterious, intertwining real aspects of Arbus's life with invented characters and an imaginary narrative. It is a new way of cinematically approaching the portrayal of an historically important person, and captures the real dilemma of a 1958 housewife who is torn between love for her husband and children and her profound need to create and explore. Brilliantly performed by Kidman and Downey, Fur is a tale of artistic and personal self-discovery; an Alice-in-Wonderland adventure that is both exciting and scary, and ultimately, deeply moving.
As Fur opens, a small audience of wealthy furriers is expected at the Arbus Family Photography Studio and home for a fashion show of the latest furs from Russek's, the posh Fifth Avenue fur and department store run by Diane's father. It is a stressful event for Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman), a housewife and mother who works as an assistant to her husband Allan (Ty Burrell), a fashion and advertising photographer. The delicate gold-leafed chairs must be neatly aligned, the models must be styled to perfection, and Diane and her two young daughters must be immaculately turned out for the occasion in their best dresses and Russek's furs. The correctness of their behavior will be appraised not only by the snooty crowd, but also by Diane's parents, Russek's proprietors Gertrude (Jane Alexander) and David Nemerov (Harris Yulin). Though the Nemerovs employ the Arbuses to photograph the store's ads, it is a barbed form of patronage. They raised Diane to be part of their privileged class, and observe everything she does with a critical eye, commenting on any mistake or breach of protocol. Though trying her best to disguise it, Diane is as uncomfortable and restless in that world as she is in her Russek's stole. It is an unease that lies just beneath the surface of her orderly, respectable life.
That night, while rich furriers from all over the country eye the expensive new fashions, a team of movers begins unloading a large truck. Watching them carry furniture and other odd possessions inside and up the stairs of her building, Diane's eye is caught by a strange-looking mask the size of a man's head. Later, when Diane gets her first glimpse of her new neighbor, Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.), in the nighttime street, the mystery only deepens. He is bundled up in coat and hat, his face obscured by a scarf and mask. Only his eyes are visible, frankly returning Diane's fascinated gaze.
Over the next two weeks, Diane becomes keenly interested in her neighbor's comings and goings -- his footsteps on the stairs, the music playing from his attic apartment, etc. A bald visitor dashes upstairs and returns noticeably changed. Investigating a backed-up bathroom sink one day, Diane traces the problem to a plumbing pipe linking their two apartments ... a discovery that leads to yet more tantalizing clues about the man upstairs.
Eventually, tentatively, Diane makes her way up to Lionel's ornate door wearing the Rolleiflex camera that Allan bought her years ago, as yet unused. Diane, however, will not take Lionel's photo that night or the next, when he invites her into his home. It is the beginning of an adventure that will take Diane into the underground worlds that have always called to her -- and into a compelling intimate relationship that will transform her life and her art forever.
- Posted: November 28, 2007
- Director: Steven Shainberg
- Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson
- Studio: Picturehouse
- Release: November 10, 2006
- Cast: Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey, Jr.
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