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Study for a Portrait of a Studio Memo 

Wednesday, Oct 28 1998
Dear [Studio Head],

Picasso, Basquiat, and now Bacon. They're making pictures about guys in studios again, and who knows more about that than you do? It's high time Hollywood cashed in on this trend and churned out some spectacular big-budget bio pix of 20th-century artists - as only you can. I sketched out a few ideas, as follows:

ACTION JACKSON!

Jackson Pollock (Ed Harris? No, Bruce Willis!) is a hard-living paint-slinger from the Wild West who draws from the hip, makes it to the big city and becomes the fastest brush in New York. This guy is the Terminator of the art world. He paints with knives and sticks, hurling skeins of pigment loaded with sand and glass at huge naked canvases! Definitely thinking 70 mm here: Picture the canvas as an arena of combat, and imagine epic battles with paint like you've never seen before on film, as Pollock attacks it from all sides. Closeup photography puts you in the middle of the action, with gooey, quick-moving globs of paint exploding around you, the horrific noise of their impact enhanced with THX sound. (These sequences will make Saving Private Ryan look like a watercolor study.)

And it's not just hard action, either. We delve into art-world intrigues as Clement Greenberg (De Niro), head of New York's critical mafia, does a behind-the-scenes Godfather number to launch Pollock's career. In no time at all, Jackson's on the cover of Life magazine, and Vogue models are posing in front of his violence-drenched masterpieces. Struggling under the glare of his newfound celebrity, our hero remains true to his boozing-cowboy roots, shocking his socialite patrons with his rough-and-ready behavior. No big sex scenes, but he does whip out his willie and piss in the fireplace during a party at the posh digs of Peggy Guggenheim (Cameron Diaz?). And as a sinister background to his meteoric rise to mega-fame, we focus in on America's obsession with A-bomb detonations in the late 1940s (imagine brilliant cross-cutting between the bombs going off and the explosions in Pollock's studio).

N.B.: Film ends with the hero dying in a car crash. A bit of a downer, but remember Peter Horton's similar demise in thirtysomething and the audience upswing that accompanied it.

HELLO DALI!

A musical? Guess again. This is a darkly comic voyage to the bottom of the psyche. Our captain is Salvador Dali, a timid kid from Catalan who blows into Paris and transforms himself into a high-styling superstar bent on liberating the deepest secrets of the subconscious. Part clown, part mad genius, and with a mustache that's a special effect in itself, he's so surreal even the Surrealists can't handle him. Frankly, this is a role that has "Jim Carrey" written all over it, so we'll have to go deep pockets, but it's got blockbuster elements right down the line.

For starters, Dali's greedy wife, Gala (Madonna, hands down), is a femme fatale who will leave today's neo-noir lightweights pissing in their pants. Driven by insatiable ambition and a hunger for riches, she masterminds Sal's rise to the top, arousing the envy of his fellow Surrealists, who, in a backstabbing frenzy, try to oust him from the group. To Dali, though, Gala's a vision of virginal beauty, and he's only too happy to rake in the big bucks, even if it means sacrificing his reputation.

But there's a hidden price to pay - and it's not just the bills for Gala's countless young gigolos. Dali's gun-toting evil secretary (Antonio Banderas) defrauds him of millions, while Gala sedates the artist with buckets of pills. Is she poisoning him? Will his platonic lover Amanda Lear (Chloe Sevigny), Europe's mysterious transsexual Disco Queen, come to his rescue? Will Surrealist generalissimo Andre Breton (Michael Richards in a cameo?) overcome his jealousy and send in the troops?

You want funny, too? How about Sal inviting Bob Hope for a dinner during which a live frog jumps out of the soup onto Hope's lap? How about staging a fashion show with gorgeous models wearing live lobsters, or designing a pool in the shape of a giant phallus? This Dali guy is larger than life, but remember, we also show him as a complex individual, self-indulgent and neurotic, obsessed with voyeurism, masturbation and impotence. The Seinfeld crowd will eat him up!

N.B.: Tim Burton is a must to direct. This is dark, dark, dark, but it could be big, big, big.

BORN FRIDA

Anytime you're making a movie about a female Mexican artist with a hairy upper lip, casting is critical. Which is why this project couldn't move until Jennifer Lopez sashayed into view. Playing Frida Kahlo - in a nutshell, the most famous woman artist of all time - Jenny will have to act her critically acclaimed booty off, because this story's got it all: high romance, earthy sensuality, heart-rending tragedy, and eyebrows to die for. The basic plot line has universal appeal. Girl gets Boy. Boy gets mural commission. Girl loses Boy, then gets him back. Paints herself wearing Boy's suit with her hair cut off, and a caption to the effect that he's not wild about short hair. Boy, by the way, is big-shot muralist Diego Rivera (Benicio del Toro plus 40 pounds?), a gun-toting hunk who hobnobs with Rockefeller and commies alike. Despite Diego's skirt-chasing ways, Frida adores him, and their tumultuous marriage - both of them, in fact - forms the heartbeat of the movie.

Frida is no dewy naif, however. While struggling to overcome a crippling accident and marital turmoil, she not only finds time to paint magnetic, sexy self-portraits, but has a fiery and swinging love life of her own - with big names like Leon Trotsky (Tim Roth, say) and Isamu Noguchi (Jackie Chan in a stretch?). Finally, we arrive at the killer climax: A year before her tragic death, Frida - now seriously ill - gets her first exhibition in her native Mexico. She's carried in on a stretcher, like a holy woman. The crowd goes nuts. She's a heroine to the people, a folk icon, and though she can barely move her lips to smile, we see she knows her legend will live on. There won't be a dry eye in the house.

N.B.: Smells like Oscar.

There's more where this came from, e.g., BACK TO THE FUTURISTS, a comedy staring those fun-loving Italian pranksters - Fillipo, Gino, Carlo and Umberto - who revolutionized 20th-century art. Lots of room for gags in this one, particularly when they're working on the Futurist Cookbook, which includes an exploding pasta recipe. Or how about THIS BEUYS' LIFE, the heart-lifting tale of international art superstar Joseph Beuys (Stellan Skarsgard? No, Schwarzenegger!), who starts his career as a Luftwaffe radio operator, crashes in the Crimea and gets rescued by tribespeople who initiate him in primitive rituals. Dances come to mind? Good. But forget about wolves, this guy shacks up with a coyote in a Soho gallery . . .

Well, you get the idea(s). Let me know what you think!

Best,

R.R.

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