Imagine a world where women are as changeable and exchangeable as paintings; where friends manipulate, use and drive each other to suicide in the name of their work; where beauty is only worth its weight in oils, canvas and a famous name.
This is the London Art Scene (LAS), and the world depicted by the new satirical film Boogie Woogie. Based on the 2000 novel of the same name by Danny Moynihan, and directed by Duncan Ward, this is one film which ought to know a thing or two about its subject matter; Moynihan, the son of painters Roderigo Moynihan and Anne Dunne and brother of artist Michael Wishart, has long been a fixture on the arty-party circuit. And Ward is married to Mollie Dent Brocklehurst, an international curator who has worked for the infamous Gagosian Gallery.
And Boogie Woogie does not disappoint. Real names are dropped into the plethora of characters (for example Damien Hirst – also art curator for the film – lent one of his original ‘Spin’ canvases to the project), and familiar incidents make the film fairly believable.
But it is also farcical – no matter how debauched the LAS may be, it is impossible to believe that its main players switch partners with the frequency and callousness of the characters in Boogie Woogie. To take one example, near the beginning of the film Bob Maclestone (Stellen Skarsgard) visits Art Spindle’s gallery to inquire as to whether there may be any new pieces he might be interested in investing in. He looks over assistant Beth’s shoulder at a computer screen and we hear the pair discussing the various merits of certain pictures. The camera pans round and we see the objects of their discussion: photographs of breasts on a plastic surgery website.
Furthermore, the utter disregard for the beauty of art is overwhelming. The characters are ever searching for their hit of the Next Big Thing, valuing art more highly for its ability to draw famous names to a launch party than for any aesthetic sensibility. Without the context of the evolution of art as a creative medium, and seen only through the prism of money, sex and power, it loses – for the audience as well as the characters – any power to move or inspire and becomes yet another commodity; the bread and butter of the super-rich and super-flashy.
Boogie Woogie is a hugely enjoyable film – full of witty one-liners, pretty girls, sex and plenty of intrigue. There are many funny moments, several shocking, one or two sad. The actors are all perfectly in character throughout, none more so than Danny Huston, who gives Art Spindle one of the best laughs on celluloid. Yet it ultimately depicts a hollow, soulless world, and the film skims the gilded surface. There is no desire in Boogie Woogie to swim deeper into the characters and their world, or to find the meanings and motives behind their restless, competitive, highly glamorous lives. Or perhaps the film is trying to say that there are none.