'She was a personality exploding', The Guardian, October 24th 2006
Nicole Kidman likes a challenge. So why does her film about artist Diane Arbus duck every possible controversy? By Geoffrey Macnab
After the international premiere of her new film, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, she explained what it was like to "get inside the skin" of the American photographer. What you needed, she said, was an intense sense of identification - "an incredible deep, spiritual connection. The way a great photographer sees the world is fascinating. You have it in your blood in the same way you have acting."
Casting Kidman as Arbus initially seems like a perverse decision. The photographer, whose pictures of dwarfs, giants and transvestites have assumed a near legendary status since her suicide at age 48 in 1971, looked nothing like Kidman. She was short, dark-haired, Jewish. Kidman, as we all know, is tall, pale, redheaded.
Director Steven Shainberg, who directed Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary, says he means Fur to act as a counter to the conventional, cradle-to-the-grave biopic, in which an audience gets a guided tour of the subject's life, loves and career. The result is a deeply odd film, which tells us next to nothing about Arbus's life, but instead tries to offer a snapshot of her psyche.
"I want to wrench the audience out of the literal and into the dream," Shainberg says. "First off, who better than Kidman, who doesn't look at all like Arbus. And from an internal point of view, the Arbus journey is not unlike that of Nicole - that willingness to cross the barriers of her own field, that desire to experience many different roles."
In the late 1950s, Arbus - the privileged daughter of a fur magnate, who lived a reasonably conventional life in Manhattan with her fashion photographer husband and two children - became one of the most inventive photographers of her generation. How did this happen? And where did her much-debated fixation with the bizarre come from? These are the questions the film tries to answer.
"Basically, she was a personality exploding at the age of 35," Shainberg says. "Until that point, she was encased in a kind of steel box. She had reached a point where she would either have retreated or struck out on her own, as the film portrays."
There are some obvious parallels between the photographer and the actor who plays her. In both cases, it was the break-up of a marriage that seems to have been the catalyst for artistic reinvention. What is intriguing about Fur is how well it sits with some of Kidman's other post-Cruise performances - Virginia Woolf in The Hours, the widow who sees the re-incarnation of her dead husband in a 10-year-old child in Birth. Kidman freely admits that the end of her first marriage liberated her as an actor. "When I was divorced, I was able to explore myself artistically, because I didn't feel I was betraying my relationship."
But already several critics, as well as Arbus's former friends and colleagues, have questioned Fur's deviations from the facts of the photographer's life. The film gives no sense of Arbus in the prime of her career, and the interesting questions as to whether she was exploitative or overly aggressive are left to one side. Certainly, the dreamy woman Kidman plays is nothing like the photographer whom Germaine Greer recalls meeting in 1971. In an article for the Guardian, Greer wrote: "Clutching the camera she climbed on the bed and straddled me, moving up until she was kneeling with a knee on both sides of my chest."
Arbus was a depressive (some said a schizophrenic) with an unhappy private life. But in Shainberg's films, the mood is surprisingly benign. You can't help but see its failure to take on Arbus's suicide as a major evasion. Shainberg and his screenwriter, Erin Cressida Wilson, make up large parts of their story, inventing a mysterious neighbour, Lionel (Robert Downey Jr), who has a condition that causes hair to grow all over his body. Somehow, Lionel awakens Arbus's sexual and artistic curiosity.
There have been many earlier attempts to make a film about Arbus, and all have stalled. Ironically, it was the sheer quirkiness of Shainberg's approach that enabled him to get his movie made. "By the time I got along, everything had been tried and they [the producers] were fans of my film Secretary. They thought, why not give me a shot? It's amazing they let me try with such a wild notion."
The film's premise is strikingly similar to that of Secretary: a young woman becomes obsessed with a powerful and strange man. There are S&M scenes and plenty of voyeurism, and this must surely be the first time Nicole Kidman has shared the screen with an actor called Delirium Tremens.
Shainberg's film doesn't judge Arbus. Its aims are more modest: simply to portray her as the director imagines her at a key creative moment in her life over a few weeks in 1958. "I've made the only film I could and it is totally personal," he sighs. "There are people who knew her and who are somewhat academic in their approach to what they feel are the facts of her life. The person I portray is not the person jumping on Germaine Greer".
· Fur is released on November 10.
Contact » Rate » Disclaimer » Add to Favourites
Layout by Dora
© 2002-2006 NICOLE'S MAGIC