Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2007)


Fur An Imaginary Portrait of Diane ArbusWhen I started to watch Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2007) I didn’t know what to make of it that was less than an hour into this fictional account of the photographer Diane Arbus  Who I must admit I had never heard of. I had however heard of the more iconic Freaks (1932), of course a comparison is unfair to make between the two films. A relationship does grow between a woman and social outcast due to their deformities. Instead of focusing on that world of outcast we see a woman from the mainstream, a conservative photography family business drawn to her mysterious neighbour who has just moved in upstairs.

At first his presence above them is only really known to Diane (Nicole Kidman) who is drawn to him, fascinated by his very appearance, hidden under the Mexican wrestler’s mask, making the mysterious man all the more alluring to her. Feeling disconnected from the world of fur that dominates the fashion photography. Carrying a dead animal on her as no appeal to her.

I think it was good planning to have previously seen Secretary (2002) being erotically dark. The eroticism is driven by the extreme differences that are found with  Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jr.) who himself suffers from extreme hair growth (hypertrichosis a.k.a. werewolf syndrome) which the audience is slowly introduced to, just as Arbus is introduced to his condition which has seen his become a reclusive wig-maker. Arbus is fascinated by the people who live on the fringes of life meeting more of them as the film progresses, Even welcoming Sweeney into her home, which causes friction among them. Especially for Husband Allan (Ty Burrell) who starts to grow a beard and an unpredictable rate, just to try to compete with the neighbour who was believed to be the focus of a photographic project. 

Arbus is more comfortable in the world of outcasts than her own conservative family, her children already think she’s weird, so why not make the jump wholeheartedly. She does feel more at home with a host of people who are usually seen in horror films or the butt of jokes in slap-stick comedy. A more positive light, compared to how I last saw deformed/disabled people in El Topo (1970) which saw them being massacred, of course that’s a completely different film and context. Here these people are accepted by a woman who may also be aroused by them which could be disturbing and scary. However handled delicately by director Steven Shainberg who focuses more on the Diane/Lionel relationship which sees a desire for fur move naturally to human hair (for her at least).

The very premise of the film just from the title and the prologue suggests fictional episodes in her life, instead starting and ending at a naturist resort, before we settle down for what is a life changing time in the photographers life. This could be seen as misleading, instead seeing the inspiration that put her onto her career and lives work. Even a brief look at her work I can see the humanity in the people she photographed, very powerful images of people who are otherwise forgotten in society. With the release of Kidman’s latest film Grace of Monaco (2014) which is being panned around the world, we can see what she is capable of, delivering a sensitive performance opposite Downey Jr. who bravely takes on the role of Lionel which sees him in heavy make-up for the majority of the film. What we have is a film that could easily take advantage of the disabled/deformed in such a context, handled well by a director who seems to specialise in eroticism, giving us a sensitive and exciting film.

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