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Reeler Exclusive: Fur Director Shainberg Fires Back at Critics

The Reeler snagged a few minutes Monday with Fur director Steven Shainberg, whose kinda-sorta biopic of photographer Diane Arbus opens Nov. 10 in New York. As alluded to from the trenches of Sunday's premiere, Shainberg's film has withstood a double-fisted offensive from gossips and critics who seem particularly eager to bring it down, whether addressing Nicole Kidman's absence from publicity duties (she did indulge the Daily News in a fluffy interlude Sunday) or the film's eschewing of biopic conventions for a more fantastic, fairy-tale reimagining of a pivotal point in Arbus' life.

This all seems a little overboard to me; while I go back and forth on the film, I would say I liked most of it and would (and have had to) gladly defend it on its own embattled terms. But one particular review seemed so personal -- so irretrievably brutal -- that you almost need safety goggles to read it. I'm speaking, of course, about the work of one Richard Schickel:

What we must not ignore is the gross ineptitude of this film. As he previously demonstrated with Secretary, the director, Steven Shainberg, has a thoroughly nasty desire to degrade and humiliate female characters. This is combined with a truly tasteless eye for settings and decor, a staggering ignorance of nuance in performance and an apparent belief that the business of art is to repel rather than to seduce. Or rather to repel and then tack on a little spurious uplift as he finally does here. Another way of putting that is that he is precisely the opposite of Diane Arbus, hopelessly enthralled and self-endangered by her obsession, yet somehow finding in her art the means of controlling it -- at least for a time. Shainberg, in contrast, wishes only to lie about her life. And exploit it.

Um, Mr. Shainberg? Response?

"I haven't read his review simply because I don't read Richard Schickel -- because I don't think he's a good critic," Shainberg told me. "I find him to be simplisitc and foolish. So I don't read him. But having said that, you cannot make a daring, unusual, completely risky film about amazing, outrageous subject matter, and not expect people to be polarized. When I made Secretary, there were people who thought it was a dirty movie. And there were people who were very moved by it. Those are the only kinds of films I'm going to make anyway, so am I troubled by it? Not in the least. I know the game I'm in; I'm not capable of -- nor am I interested in -- making a film that is attempting to appeal to everyone. That would be ridiculous. I mean, I'm interested in making the most personal films I can. My own internal life has enough complexity to it -- and I'm in touch with it enough -- that I'm going to put people off. And I'm also going to attract people. To me, those are the most interesting kinds of films. What's the point in trying to make a movie that is trying to be all things to all people?

"Having said that," he continued, "I think that one of the things that the subtitle of the movie [An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus] and the two cards at the beginning of the film are asking the audience to do is open their mind: Open your mind to a new kind of approach to a real person. Somebody like Richard Schickel is incapable of that, you know? And if you are incapable of that, then you don't even have access to what the movie has to offer. You've missed it entirely."

Got it. Now that that's out of the way, I can move on to the more constructive business of my podcast feature with Shainberg, which will arrive here on The Reeler later this week. Teaser: We actually talk about the movie! It'll be crazy.

Posted at November 7, 2006 8:48 AM

Comments (2)

but it is ture
its such a BAD movie
and nicole kidman is so horribly cast in the film

she should have played the furry creature

Maybe...
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