Thursday, 7 March 2013

Boogie Woogie

Boogie Woogie

I don’t know art but I know what I like…

Duncan Ward’s scabrous satire Boogie Woogie turns a jaundiced eye on the London art scene.  With a cast to die for (everyone from Christopher Lee, Charlotte Rampling and Joanna Lumley to Alan Cumming, Heather Graham and American starlet Amanda Seyfried), Boogie Woogie’s densely layered narrative lays bare the vapid, superficial world of the YBAs, the Shoreditch wannabees and the Russian oligarchs who throw money at anything as long as they think it’s ART. 

Sleazy, amoral art dealer Art Spindle (Danny Huston. See what they did there…his name’s ART and he deals in ART) is desperate to get his paws on the genteelly impoverished Alfred Rhinegold’s (Christopher Lee) prized Piet Mondrian painting (the Boogie Woogie of the title). The only problem is the old boy doesn’t want to sell. Mrs Rhinegold (Joanna Lumley) however is tempted and a bidding war ensues bringing Art into conflict with rich collector Bob Macclestone (Stellan Skarsgård). Meanwhile, the rest of the cast flit about the London Art Scene in an Altmanesque fashion, screwing each other physically and metaphorically.

Unfortunately, like the world it portrays, Boogie Woogie is a little glib, a little soulless.  It’s entertaining but doesn’t linger long in the memory after the end credits and is content to take easy potshots at the usual suspects when it should have been mercilessly tearing the superficial scene a new hole.  Like much of the art on show, it’s all surface gloss and glitz, its hugely talented cast, for the most part, wasted in one-dimensional roles with all the subtlety of a Christmas panto in Woking.  In fact, I’d pay good money to see Alan Cumming play Mother Goose while Danny Huston’s scenery-chewing turn would make for a great Big Bad Wolf. 

Based on artist and screenwriter Danny Moynihan’s own book, Boogie Woogie never really feels like an insider’s view of the art scene and despite (or, perhaps, because of) Damien Hirst’s involvement as consultant and curator (much of the work on display is from his own extensive collection) the film never feels quite savage enough, almost as if no-one really wanted to offend the nice artists by being scathing or critical about them.

While the narrative thrust of the film concerns Huston’s Art and his attempts to acquire the titular painting, the black wizened heart of the film for me is Jaime Winstone’s cocky, Cockney lesbian video-artist Elaine (an obvious but likeably nasty nod to Tracy Emin), a sexual predator whose work consists of an ongoing video installation documenting her own salacious life in minute detail.  Spiky and ambitious, willing to betray anyone and anything to get to the top, Elaine’s membership form for the Groucho club is probably already in the post.

David Watson

Duncan Ward
Produced by
Danny Moynihan, Kami Naghdi, Christopher Simon, Cat Villiers
Danny Moynihan
Running time

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