Big Eyes (2014)
Like many I was not aware of this true story of fraud and massive success in the art-world (I say art-world lightly) that saw the work of one artist and their success enjoyed by another. A crime in itself, passing of the work of another as your own. However it’s not hard to do when you’re married to them, at first taking credit indirectly. Until you look beneath the surface of the likes of the Keane’s to discover an arrangement that worked in favor of the lesser talented Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) in Big Eyes (2014) when the true talent’s suppressed from the limelight which Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) deserves.
For Tim Burton this is a rare departure, a biopic, having not see Ed-Wood (1994) I can’t really compare the two films. It’s very much in his outlandish and darkly stylised tones. Based much more in reality, it’s the work of Margaret Keane which lends itself to his visual language. The darkly expressive children who look longingly out to you. You can’t escape the eyes which following you long after you stop looking at these innocent looking children. An opportunity for Walter Keane to take advantage of a far stronger and distinctive style which he lacked, including the talent as we later learn.
You could say its film of rival artist fighting to be celebrated and recognized by their peers, something which all artists including myself aspire to. Something which happens first in small circles before you reach higher critical levels which we all dream of reaching. The chance meeting of Walter and Margaret seems so innocent when they are first on-screen together, you think what could possibly go wrong before all the lies start to come to the surface. For timid Margaret she’s swept off her feet by Walter who acts incredible quick to marry her, two artist, one bourgeoise, the other oddly curious. So much talent in one relationship, there would always be a fight for attention from the art-world.
We see the foundations being laid for one of the biggest lies in American art, at first the only way to get a sale becomes this big fat lie where Walter cannot help but take credit for the work for his wife. A world that was still very much male-dominated, nobody would question him until he started to talk about the work, falling back on his wife who knew the work on another level that he could only dream of understanding. They do however fight to get the work accepted by the art-world as credible work. When in-fact as The New York Times art critic John Canaday (Terence Stamp) writes is kitsch at the of the day, only working on an emotion level that is mass-produced, instead of being able to elevate and be aspirational. There’s however still talent in these works, that do engage the viewer, drawing you in, attention grabbing but hardly provocative.
So with the plot basically explained where does the Burton touches come into the film? It’s mainly in the day-dream visuals that Margaret has at times, we see the insecurities of the artist come alive as her work takes on a life beyond what she ever imagined. If only she was able to determine that herself. Visually the film is very bright, high contrast, it’s an arty story so why not go crazy, immersing us into this world. What surprised me was how deep the story went. going even further than I had thought. Revealing all to the world, I thought this was a pretty recent event that had come to light. Deal with in the court-room it all come out in silly theatrics. Waltz is chewing the set up, devouring the part, able to play the darker roles with ease, this is not a stretch for him. Opposite Amy Adams whose vulnerability comes through more, the innocence doesn’t last forever, she has more range than just the down-trodden woman looking at her body of work.
Big Eyes is a number of shades of colour’s, perfect material for Burton, who you can see has been influenced by the artists work in his own work. Is he pay homage and setting the record straight about an artist who has no right to be recognized. Raising the status of a much forgotten kitsch artist who deserves a second look and celebration. The plot moves on at quite a pace, taking in certain moments of their story, with a semi narration by journalist and friend Dick Nolan (Danny Huston) which I could easily take or leave really, he’s so underused at times why did they bother to pop-up intermittently. Its is however refreshing to see Burton not to be working with Johnny Depp who could have played Walter Keane so easily. Overall it was a fun film with lots of insight into a forgotten and shameful side of the art-world that was once mass-produced.
- Behind the scenes of Big Eyes (2014) and a look at the real Keanes (mattmulcahey.wordpress.com)
- Big Eyes  (frdennismoviereviews.blogspot.co.uk)