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on 18 August 2010
"Boogie Woogie" traces the triumphs and pitfalls of several archetypical representatives of the London contemporary art world. The lives of collectors, owners, dealers, artists and their partners and employees interweave in a world of trendy hysteria, stupid money, hedonistic indulgence, Machiavellian ambition, British pomposity, betrayal, sex and old fashioned greed. Much of the action is centred on a piece of modern art owned by an ailing and frail yet aggressively stubborn and proud old man, Mr Alfred Rhinegold (Christopher Lee). His entire status revolves around his ownership of the piece, called "Boogie Woogie", which he will not part with no matter the price. Meanwhile his wife (Joanna Lumley) struggles with their debts in order to retain the high standard London living they enjoy and connives behind his back with their manservant to sell the work. Outside of their lives a greedy dealer with his own obscure private desires works hard to organize the sale of the piece to an extremely rich and obsessive collector. Within the dealers own business lurk ambitious and vulnerable underlings and around it swim both predatory and tragic wannabes. As for the collector himself, his wife (Gillian Anderson) will bring matters startlingly to a head with his prized art collection...
I am often very sceptical about "star studded" movies. Animated films tend to have a distinctively higher record for pulling it off, but most big budget blockbusters or art films (the most common places to find an ensemble of established movie actors) that boast an all-star cast are their own worst enemy. The blockbusters are often so painfully cynical in their conception and execution that everything becomes substandard, even the acting. The art films, of which this very loosely falls (it's a comedy of manners, which by today's standards has gone from a form of archaic broad comedy to a type of wry satire), tend to come across as desperate attempt for stars to prove how well they can actually act. I am happy to report that you can go a lot worse than "Boogie Woogie".
If you are looking for laugh out loud or even very clever comedy writing, you are going to be at a loss. The Guardian described it as being very shallow. I am not so sure. True, it lacks much in the way of empathy at its core. The non-predatory characters in the film come across as so weak that your only sympathy for them comes from a general sense of human compassion and not from any particularly redeeming characteristics. The proud Rhinegold character would be worth rooting for if his reasons for holding onto his painting were a little more honourable. The closest to what you might regards as villains of the piece are a better mixture of characters, each symbolizing the amoral pragmatism and manipulation methods found in the art world. There is the trader, his ambitious assistant (Heather Graham), the rakish social climbing male artist and a lesbian up-and-coming artist who expertly manipulate all those around them. You find yourself disapproving of their methods and objectives, but cannot but share their contempt for the gullibility of the "more money than sense" buyers and the sophisticated sheep who value the example of "Emperor's New Clothes". It is this aspect that resonates with me.
The film is what you could describe as a "biting satire" - if you will pardon the cliché. As I said before it isn't particularly funny. There are no funny situations and certainly little in the way of quotable and no witty one-liners - something a film of this nature seriously needs - but you do find yourself chuckling as the observations of the absurdities of contemporary supposed high society. It is savage and nihilistic to some degree, but this doesn't mean that all the a-moralists tend to win through. In this sense it is even more chaotic than something that might have more Sadiean principles at heart. However, when a roguish character does end up on the losing end, it is either because of bad luck or being bettered by another villain. Like the brilliant "Swimming with Sharks", "Boogie Woogie" serves well as a cautionary tale for anyone who aspires to the professional world of art. Unfortunately whereas "Swimming with Sharks" gave us a harsh "this ain't no fairy tale" type ending that made you think about the story's core messages and where its diluted imitator "The Devil Wears Prada" offered a more uplifting finish, most viewers will probably find "Boogie Woogie" to be somewhat unfulfilling. Nevertheless, and you will forgive my shallowness here, but any satire that kicks the pompous and shamelessly trendy "high society" of the London art world up the backside should be applauded to some degree.
*Previously published on Dooyoo, Ciao and Helium*