Saturday, July 09, 2016

Tabloid Vivant: Yes, but is it Art?

Artists used to labor to attain immortality. Nowadays, there is a new breed out to make the most of their fifteen minutes. Maximilien Klinkau wants his fame both ways: fast and long-lasting. Yet, he still wants to be left alone to brood. Art critic Sara Speed believes she can score some reflected glory by breaking the news of his new technique, but she might be slightly biased. Not only is she Klinkau’s latest lover and model, Speed also just might be sliding into lunacy with him in Kyle Broom’s Tabloid Vivant (trailer here), which screens free tonight at the University of Chicago’s Doc Films.

Klinkau’s paintings are like a sinister Yakov Smirnoff joke. You don’t just look into them. His paintings also look into you—deep into your soul—and rip a part of it out. In retrospect, the temperamental and secretive Klinkau might not be such a good fit for a Black Dahlia-obsessed aspiring journalist, but they both seem convinced about his brilliance. Retreating to a friend’s country home, Speed starts sitting for the portrait intended to be the cornerstone of her article.

However, their relationship takes a dark turn, almost as if Klinkau’s canvases are driving them mad. Speed and Klinkau will briefly clean up their act when her editor pays a visit, but she can still sense something is off (it doesn’t require much intuition). With cabin fever setting in, the film segues into Polanski-esque territory before evolving into outright body horror.

Vivant is a strange film that earns points riffing on Nietzsche and incorporating big band standards and Susie Ibarra percussion tracks on its soundtrack. However, it mirrors the overheated untidiness of Klinkau’s mind to a fault. We never believe Klinkau and Speed could be a couple, because Broom never bothers to sell us. Also rather problematically, Klinkau’s supposedly mind-blowing paintings look anything but. Frankly, the one the audience most frequently sees resembles Shepard Fairey’s infamous propaganda poster pixelated to protect the guilty.

Nevertheless, it should be readily established, Jesse Woodrow and Tamzin Brown go nuts quite impressively. When they reach the third act, they both look like emaciated heroin addicts who have been rolled in florescent paint, which is pretty on target for Broom’s needs. Amber Friendly also has the right sort of clearly intelligent screen presence to deliver a much needed reality check.

Arguably, Vivant is most effective when Broom unleashes his postmodern sense of humor. There are some very funny visual gags executed almost subliminally through rapid-fire editing. The deliberately conspicuous rear-projection driving sequence is also a nice, nostalgic touch, but Klinkau’s actual system is underwhelming, which is disproportionately problematic in a picture like this. It is a messy film that does not always nail down the connections it thinks it makes, but it is never dull. Earning a mixed recommendation for philosophically-inclined and aesthetically adventurous genre fans, Tabloid Vivant screens tonight (7/9) in Chicago at Doc Films/University of Chicago.