‘Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus’ [2006]

April 29, 2012

Nicole Kidman’s Diane Arbus is painted as a childlike artist, filled with repression and longing, fervently rebelling against her role as a wealthy, compliant 1950’s wife and mother. Realizing her own potential as an artist, Steven Shainberg’s eccentric fairy tale Fur imagines how an emotionally fragile Arbus’ dormant passions are awaked by an intriguing neighbor, Robert Downey Jr.’s strangely alluring Lionel. He’s a sideshow castaway covered in fur whose soulful eyes, sonorous voice, and seductive games immediately draw Arbus — and us — in. The two navigate a love affair on the fringes that blurs fantasy and reality. The photographer’s work has often been a point of contention. Were Arbus’ images of freaks and deviants simply exploitive? Shainberg and Secretary collaborator, writer Erin Cressida Wilson (informed by Patricia Bosworth’s Arbus biography), attempt to draw deeper connections to the artist’s subjects and conjure her emotional landscape. It’s easy to look past a few intimacy clichés (i.e. the shaving/sex scene) since RDJ and Kidman deliver such provocative performances.

© Alison Nastasi, 2016