Art School Confidential
November 14, 2006
Daniel Clowes made the successful transition from the comic book page to the big screen with an adaptation of his graphic novel Ghost World in 2000. It was an excellent example of all the right elements coming together at the right time. Clowes is back with the director of Ghost World, Terry Zwigoff, with another adaptation of his work and expanding it into a feature length effort called Art School Confidential (2006).
Jerome Platz (Minghella) is an aspiring young artist who graduates from high school and enrolls in the Strathmore Institute as an art major. One of his roommates, Vince (Suplee), is a vulgar film major trying to get a movie made based on the Strathmore Strangler who is responsible for three murders in a year’s time. Jerome dreams of being the next Pablo Picasso and also getting laid. To this end he pines after a beautiful art class model named Audrey (Myles) who becomes his muse of sorts.
Jerome’s teachers are all jaded burnouts who adhere to the cliché of those who can’t, teach. This is epitomized by Jimmy (Broadbent), the ultimate cynical burnout who doesn’t teach; he just sits around his apartment and swills cheap booze. He’s Seymour from Ghost World but without the obsessive record collection.
At times, this film feels like the art class bits from Ghost World (that Clowes skewered mercilessly) and expanded into a feature. Clowes, who went to art school himself for four years, cleverly satirizes the pretentiousness of artists and wannabes. He presents several clichés and stereotypes of this world – the ass-kissing student, the sensitive type, one who constantly refers to his “process” and so on.
Zwigoff continues his misanthropic worldview that he explored in Bad Santa (2003) and, to a lesser degree, in Ghost World. Clowes, on the other hand, is cynical too but observant enough to identify and exposes the hypocrisies inherent in art school and the art world in general. Jerome’s teacher (Malkovich) tells his students that it will take them years to develop their own style but in actuality it is not what you know but who you know as Jimmy states in his customary blunt fashion. He doesn’t sugarcoat things or, worse, use pretentious platitudes.
Art School Confidential certainly makes you think twice about being an artist or, at the very least, enrolling in art school. Real artists don’t waste their time identifying themselves as such or pontificating about their “process,” they’re out there doing it because they are driven to create art. Unlike Ghost World, Art School Confidential lacks humanity. Initially, Jerome is somewhat sympathetic but as the film progresses he becomes obsessed with becoming a true artist. He gradually begins morphing into Jimmy.
No matter what happened to Enid in Ghost World, we were always rooting for her and this was due in large part to Thora Birch’s appeal and genuinely moving performance. This is not the case with Max Minghella who starts off as the audience surrogate into this world but after some unusual plot twists becomes oddly unlikable. This doesn’t mean that Art School Confidential suffers as a result; it just takes some unexpected turns.
“Making Art School Confidential” has Clowes cheekily describe his experience at art school as it being to him what Vietnam was to Oliver Stone. This is a standard promotional featurette as the cast talk about their characters and the plot.
“Sundance Featurette” takes a look at the film’s world premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Clowes talks about how weird it was to watch the film with an audience for the first time. Also included are excerpts from the Q&A after the screening which is mildly amusing.
Also included are 12 deleted scenes that are mostly extensions of existing scenes including a nice bit with Malkovich’s teacher addressing his students. Most of this footage was probably cut for reasons of time.
“Additional Scene: Testimonials” features more of Jerome’s classmates being interviewed and talking about him.
Finally, there is “Bloopers and Alternate Takes” that has the actors blowing lines and a funny bit where Malkovich’s character freaks out, destroying some of his student’s work.