Last night, I struggled to write about the representations of the black female body in art. It happens. I opened Velvet Buzzsaw on Netflix, directed by Dan Gilroy and produced by Jennifer Fox, hoping that the horror-slash-satire-slash-comedy (?) about the art world would massage my creative juices, helping me make some connection my tired and uninspired brain couldn't. Plus, I smelled the promise of Jake Gyllenhaal's chest hair. I pressed play.
Velvet Buzzsaw is ostensibly about how corrupt the art world is and how people who profit off of art (financially or culturally) are morally bankrupt. It's anti-capitalist… or something. It doesn't know what it wants to be—is it a thriller? Is it horror? Satire? Camp? The art is literally evil. Possessing it kills you. This is art's response to Bird Box. It's like watching a movie that was directed by someone who saw The Square while stoned and tried to vaguely recreate it from memory, hitting similar surreal beats, just with a horror edge. And less knowledge about what specifically makes the art world so horrifying.
The best scene occurs 12 minutes into the film when Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Morf Vandewalt, a queer, smooth-chested, uptight art critic (who owns a flip phone!) is about to bang Josephine, played by Zawe Ashton, who up to this point has just been a gopher for a powerful art gallerist, Rene Russo's Rhodora Haze. Josephine is the type of girl who drinks wine from bottles with a screw top, the type of girl who chooses the wrong dude, who is chronically late, wears yellow satin pajamas, craves upward mobility, and is ultimately condemned for wanting it all.
Anyway, this scene, the best of the film, is only about a minute long. It features our two stars—with their perfectly slender bods, symmetrical faces, skin peeking out from behind all those expensive clothes—reminiscing about some hookup that occurred in Berlin.
"We were wasted," Josephine breathes. "I keep telling myself that," Morf says, crouching between her legs.
It was a tryst. Morf is partnered (to a man). It was Complicated.
He tells our brown Josephine, "Your skin… it's the beautiful cross between almond and saddle brown."
"I make you harder," she says, her British accent catching on the "r."
"You make me confused," he says.
"Tough headspace for a critic," as she slides his hand between her own thighs. The scene cuts.
It was here I let out a long laugh. I needed to make sure I hadn't vaped too much weed and was now off in an elaborate daydream, writing this fantasy pre-sex sex scene in my head and now watching it play out before me on screen. I wasn't. But I was still worried.
I was worried that anyone would find it hot to call anyone's skin "saddle brown." This movie did not understand the difference between satire and something just plain bad. I was also worried that I was only 12 minutes into the movie. But, it turns out, a majority of the film is composed of these minute-long sequences. Compact and woodenly written, they are perfectly sized to smash into a trailer but aren't enough to make a satisfying movie. Sadly, all the characters commit the biggest sin of being boring.
As I reopened my Word doc to resume writing after the movie had finished, a line from the film stuck in my head. Somewhere in those soupy 112 minutes, Morf sighs: "Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining." Oh Morf, if only you knew!