Syd meets Lucy, a legendary photographer, who takes her on an unexpected trip of self discovery. Slowly, Syd learns the dark truths of Lucy's life and she is forced to confront the price she has to pay for recognition and the unpredictable rewards of fame.
This is something like an Arthouse movie and reminded me a lot of Andy Warhol and The Factory, even though it is loosely based on the photography of Nan Golding.
The quality of the filming and direction isn't brilliant and I cannot understand the 18 classification. Ok there two ladies sitting on the toilet and drug use but the intimate lesbian scenes are not either erotic or particularly sensual. However, the story is quite strong but without spoiling the movie I found the end to have been done before and it left me a little flat.
Ally Sheedy is excellent and it makes you wonder why she doesn't get the big parts anymore.
There is a theory about 'feel good' films and homosexuals. There was a time when lesbians were always violent psychopaths, as portrayed in 'The Killing of Sister George' - and then people decided that they would make happy-happy films about women who were completely okay with their sexualities despite the disapproval of others. Examples are Better than Chocolate, The incredible adventure of two girls in love. And then, people started to realise that such films were totally removed from reality and did not embrace the fact that not all lesbians/gay men are totally happy. This may have nothing to do with their sexuality, but there is some external force that is making them depressed. In the case of High Art, Lucy, one of the central characters is depressed because her girlfriend is a crackhead and her job in the professional art world is wearing her down mentally. The story has nothing to do with lesbians being strange, messed up creatures - but deals, quite maturely, with people who happen to be lesbians in a tight situation. I think there is often a lot of confusion about the difference between a film such as 'The Killing of Sister George' which is blatantly about victimisation, and High Art which is a bona fide tragedy in itself. Cholodenko has made a superb movie about a delicate and doomed relationship which is shot beautifully, has a lot of artistic and intellectual integrity - and is believable. Lucy and Syd's relationship is never properly consummated because Lucy decides that she doesn't care anymore. Syd's first time with a woman is not washed with yellow light, because it is understood that your first time, however old you are, can be a nerve racking experience. I think the star of the film is 'Greta', Lucy's drug-ridden girlfriend who is the most original antagonist I've seen; Irreverent, larger than life and supremely talented. There is no hope tacked on the end of this film, other than the success of Lucy's photo shoot - which is why I found it so different and enjoyable. It is a challenge, firstly, to those who only want to see Lesbians in happy, or at least redeeming films, and secondly, to those who are thinking of making budget films themselves; the director's commentary is very helpful.
I had high hopes of this film but in the end I was a bit disappointed after finding The Kids Are All Right so brilliant. This film from about ten years before feels much more like a young person's film, and the "high" in the title is there for a reason - the characters spend quite a lot of time in this state - all the time, in the case of Patricia Clarkson, which I find a bit tedious. It's about a Nan Goldin-type of photographer, but somehow these people sitting around don't quite convey the warmth or vulnerability I've always felt coming from those pictures - or indeed from a film like Paul Morrissey's Trash. Ally Sheedy is very convincing in the role, but I found the character too self-centred and undisciplined to really win me over, or enable me to feel moved at all. In real life, people who never stick to their word, and have to follow their own whim at every turn are quite a pain to deal with, and she was unhelpful right from the first when her neighbour from downstairs came up because there was a leak coming through her ceiling. She reacted in a rather disaffected way, oddly when you consider she must have fancied her straight away, really. I suppose we were meant to feel she was very bogged down in an unsatisfactory relationship, but they're all so spaced out on drugs it's hard to know how they can make sense of anything. What the film does have is a sustained authenticity, you feel, recreating the tone of the lives it shows very accurately and setting the naive girl (played by Radha Mitchell) well against the druggy crowd in the flat upstairs. Not that she treats her boyfriend very well either ...
The tone is hard to fathom, in a way, because it's clear Lisa Cholodenko intends a critical perspective on the art magazine people, but with the photographer's friends I felt it was my reaction and not really the one she was aiming for. Other viewers may well warm to the central romance more than I did ... For me, the standout element was Patricia Clarkson as former Fassbinder actor Greta, now totally washed-up. She manages to make the character speak so much even through the drugs haze, and makes the her totally memorable, as well as having a brilliant sense of style with just a hint of the Germanic in look and accent. It's a tour de force performance as always from an actor who never puts a foot wrong.