Remember those popular Big Eyes paintings from the 60’s? Did you know about the story of art forgery behind it? Some of you will first think that the film Big Eyes is about art. As true as that is, it’s also a drama about art forgery and the ones caught in the middle. This is especially of intrigue to those who remember the ‘big eyes’ paintings from the 60’s.
The film begins with Margaret Ulbrich arriving in San Francisco with her daughter. She has recently divorced her husband and is hoping to make it as an artist. Art is not only her best skill but it’s her one and only skill in terms of employability. At first she’s hired by a furniture factory to paint drawings on children’s furniture. She does drawings of caricatures in a San Francisco market to make extra change.
Soon she catches the attention of a successful ‘artist’ by the name of Walter Keane. He’s impressed with her ‘big eyes’ caricatures she draws. They’re based off the wide eyes of her daughter Jane and Margaret even says that children’s eyes are the windows to their souls. Walter promises Margaret that he can make her art famous. He’s a good salesman as he knows how to sell real estate and his own art: painting of Paris where he claims to have been inspired by the city even though spending a mere week in it. She agrees and the two marry.
This comes as a welcome relief for Margaret as she is threatened to lose custody of Jane because she can’t afford to care for her. This is also a relief for Walter as his paintings of Paris are declining in sales. Soon Walter promotes the big eyes paintings at restaurants. He’s even willing to create phony brawls to stimulate news hype. Whatever he does, it works and the big eyes painting are catching a ton of renown.
However the secret of the success is exposed to Margaret and it’s ugly. Walter is claiming the paintings as his own. As the paintings become more popular and Walter becomes more famous, they become more and more in demand. That leads Walter to keep Amy in a hidden room where she’s to paint all the portraits. She’s practically exiled away from everyone including friends and her own daughter. Further friction grows when Margaret learns the truth about the Paris paintings. They were actually painted by an artist going by S. Cenic. Somehow Walter is able to talk his way out of it.
The real turning point is when the giant painting of a crowd of big-eyed children to be displayed at a pavilion during Expo 1964 is dissed by art critic John Canaday as ‘appalling.’ Keane can’t take it. He tries to stab Canaday but fails. He tried locking Margaret and Jane in a closet and setting it ablaze. Fortunately they escape and find a new life for themselves in Hawaii. However it’s after a visit from two Jehovah’s Witnesses that Margaret is prompted to bring Walter to justice. The trial goes with Walter playing his own attorney and doing a big song and dance for the jury but there comes the moment of truth. The film ends rather conventionally but will leave the audience satisfied justice was done.
One thing we should not forget is that art forgery is nothing new. There have been imposters claiming paintings and other works of art in the past. However this makes for an intriguing story. There are many elements why one would consider this intriguing. One would be people who remember the big eyes painting and still like them to this day. Another would be because of the conniving nature of Walter who knows how to get his way until the score is finally settled. I’m sure there’s something many people can find intriguing with the film to want to see it.
However the film doesn’t make itself too clear about what it is primarily all about. I do give the film credit for showing a story of art forgery and both the artist and scammer. I do give credit for showcasing the thriving and influential San Francisco art scene form the 50’s and 60’s. I also give the film credit about showing just how much of a conniver Walter Keane was to the point he felt he could kill a critic and even connive a judge in the court of law. And I especially give the film credit for showing the mother-daughter relationship involved with the story. In fact that was one of my favorite parts of the film where after Margaret left Walter, Margaret became a typical mother again and Jane became a typical daughter again. However it does leave one to wonder if it was mostly to do about the art or to do about the forgery behind it? It’s very possible to balance those two elements out appropriately on film but I just wonder if it was balanced out right.
Amy Adams did a very good job of portraying Margaret Keane. However I’ve seen better acting performances from her in the past. Christoph Waltz was also very good as the conniving Walter Keane. He succeeds at making you hate Walter and get annoyed with him. However there are times in which I think his role of Walter is a bit too close to his Oscar-winning roles of Hans Landa and King Schultz. Danny Huston also did well in the role of Dick Nolan. However it does seem odd how the narrator of all that’s happening gets so little screen time. There were additional good performances in minor roles from Terence Stamp and Jason Schwartzman.
Tim Burton did a good job of directing a film that doesn’t seem too much like your typical Tim Burton film. Interesting fact is that Burton owns two of Keane’s paintings.
Scriptwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski did a good job with the script even though it lacked consistency and focus. The set designers and costumers did a very good job in setting the scenes to the time of the film. And the score by Danny Elfman also fit the movie well.
Big Eyes is an intriguing look at the artist, the art and the forgery behind it. Even though the story was a bit off in terms of focus to its central theme, it does keep one interested.
DISCLAIMER: Okay I know this is a delayed review but I have lacked ambition in the last while with so much happening. Now I’m glad to be back and posting.
You’ve heard of Frankenstein? How about Frankenweenie? Tim Burton goes animated but can it charm like his other movies?
Victor Frankenstein is a creative boy growing up in New Holland. An only child who spends a lot of time with his dog Sparky making films and doing science experiments, his parents wonder if he’s able to make friends. His father encourages him to play baseball. it turns out to be a bad decision as Sparky chases the ball and gets hit by a car. Victor is heartbroken but not down. He still remembers the science class where his teacher Mr. Rzykruski showed the power of electricity on a dead frog. He digs up Sparky one day in hopes of bringing him back to life via electricity. It works!
However secrets don’t stay secret for long. Victor’s classmate Edgar wants to learn from Victor how to bring the dead back and even promising to keep it as a secret, albeit with fingers crossed. The two perform the experiment and the goldfish are revived but invisible due to doing something wrong. Edgar shows the other students and that sparks interest in reanimation of their own.
The children get the chance to learn about reanimation as Sparky goes missing around town. They discover Victor’s reanimation technique in the science room and attempt reanimating of their own on dead animals: Nassor on his mummified hamster, Edgar on a dead rat he found, Toshiaki’s turtle Shelley, Bob’s sea monkeys, and a dead bat Weird Girl’s cat found. The experiments go badly wrong. Edgar’s dead rat becomes a were-rat, Bob’s sea monkeys become amphibious monsters, Shelley is covered in a huge growth formula and becomes like a huge monster turtle, Colossus becomes a giant monster and Weird Girl’s cat bites the dead bat while electrocuted becoming a vampire cat. This is especially hellish as New Holland is preparing to have its town festival.
Victor finds Sparky but notices the monsters causing havoc around the town fair. In the meantime the parents are angry at what the children have learned and Mr. Rzykruski is fired. The townspeople blame Sparky for all this madness and chase him to the town windmill. It’s all up to Victor to make things right. He does succeed in the end with results both surprising and thrilling.
One thing people will like about this animated movie is that it has the familiar charm of Tim Burton’s movies. Right at the beginning when you think ‘not another story about a creative boy who has trouble making friends’, you’ll know why. The main reason why Victor can’t make friend is because he’s one of the few normal kids while almost every other kid acts like they belong in a haunted house. This is very much a trademark of Burton and nothing new. Sure he’s done animated movies before and Halloween-style characters seem to be his specialty but he succeeds in keeping it enjoyable and entertaining. The story of Frankenweenie succeeds in being charming, haunting and entertaining.
Frankenweenie is something of Burton’s own but this animated version is not something fresh. Frankenweenie was originally a live-action 30-minute film Burton did back for Disney way back in 1984. It was intended to be both a spoof and a homage to the monster movies of the 1930’s. However this did not sit that well with Disney as they originally fired him because the movie was considered too disturbing for kids. Funny how 28 years have passed and Disney actually welcomed him back to remake Frankenweenie.
Mind you it’s not just about Tim Burton’s style of filmmaking and storytelling that makes it so appealing. It’s the way that it will oddly remind you of many of the monster movies of the past. As has been stated before, this is both a satire and a homage to the 1931 movie of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There are additional tributes in the movie too: Elsa’s pet poodle has a hairstyle similar to the Bride Of Frankenstein; Nassor has a voice and face resembling Boris Karloff; Mr. Rzykruski is inspired by Vincent Price. Even with its stop-motion animated style all in black-and-white, it has its charm with it being entertaining to today’s kids. Adults will also find it enjoyable too.
Frankenweenie is not just another animated movie. It’s a movie from Tim Burton that offers a lot more. Fans of monster movies will like it and admire it.