Velvet Buzzsaw- Where fashion meets satire

The world of art is niche. Despite being displayed on every corner of the earth, and in every medium, the art world is a hard club to get into and even harder to stay a part of.  Paris, New York and Prague are considered to be the art capitals of the world, but there’s a new kid on the block and that kid’s name is Los Angeles. LA is now an art capital in its own right, becoming more contemporary than any of its competitors through its absence of artistic history. 

Having already written for films like ‘The Bourne Legacy’ and ‘Real Steel’, 2014 marked the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy. ‘Nightcrawler’ was a gritty yet satirical portrayal of broadcast journalism that followed its lead Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) throughout his pursuit for fame and notoriety. Five years later, at the Sundance film festival, Gilroy unveiled his new masterpiece titled ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ that again features Gyllenhaal as the lead. While the reviews have been mixed, the film fuses the shocking tropes of horror with a clean cut and yet bold array of fashion.

(Credit: Netflix)

Through an establishing shot of Art Basel in Miami Beach, we’re plunged into what we hope to be the tone for the rest of the movie. Instantly, we imagine the film to be both contemporary and yet dripping in allusion to the great artists of the past. Velvet Buzzsaw is set up to be art in its own right. Art Basel is now just as iconic as the work it houses in its halls, to be there is to be current and innovative in a world that longs for originality. It’s here we meet many of the big players on the art scene, most of which are introduced through the bad mouthing of colleagues and critics alike. The film follows a collection of characters all navigating their way through LA’s art world, all while ‘attempting’ to dodge the supernatural murders occurring around them. 

It could be assumed that anyone interested in art would naturally have some sense of style and the film reforms this belief. Art and fashion walk hand in hand through the entirety of Gilroy’s film, even the violent death scenes seem to possess an artistic elegance. The character’s outfits and personalities are embellished with an absurd satire that portrays the powerhouses of the art world as exuberant silver tongued caricatures. They become living stereotypes that although being awful people, become almost aspirational on a style level. Deep down there’s an allure to being a self-involved, image-obsessed style icon and ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ plays on that. 

There is, of course, the contrast between the beauty of the art and the raw untamed viciousness of the film. Shockingly, the danger stems from the cutthroat attitudes of the arty aristocrats who will stop at nothing to add another zero onto that month’s paycheck. Yes, there’s the genuine threat of killer paintings, but without their dying moral compasses to guide them, the characters would never be in any real danger.

There’re five characters that especially hit the spot as far as styling is concerned. Of course, in true horror movie fashion, all of these characters are now dead…

Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal)

(Credit: Netflix)

Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Morf could not be more contrasting to his previous character in ‘Nightcrawler’. Morf’s introduced when he swaggers into Basel, clad in a white shirt, accompanying a navy blazer and a floral pocket square. His looks are consistently clean throughout the film and carry subtle hints to 1980s mod culture. The box-cut printed shirts seem to be in endless supply (not that we are complaining), and when worn with a modest trouser they become refined- and yet still casual. The tailoring of the suits jumps straight from an Issey Miyake runway, fully equipped with a pair of wide brim glasses and subtle silver finishings. The glasses themselves are an obvious and yet subtle nod to artists whose eyewear were also their defining accessory. Andy Warhol, Jerry Saltz and now Morf all used eyewear to convey a seriousness about a topic many people see as frivolous. Morf is the definition of aesthetic perfection in 2019 as the looks he provides are both contemporary and yet oddly nostalgic. 

Gretchen (Toni Collette)

(Credit: IMDB)

Gretchen is what high schoolers would call a snake, gossiping behind her ‘friends’ backs to climb the proverbial ladder. Despite being more emotional than Morph, her looks are just as sharp. Her outfits are almost always monochromatic and usually relaxed in fit, the trousers she wore during her death scene were the art in themselves. Even as her arm is being violently ripped from her body, her facial expressions and outfit remain surprisingly chic. If anything, the sporadic splatters of blood ignite some colour in the monochromatic look. Despite being full of gore, her death’s still rather beautiful. Ironically, when children mistake her body as part of the exhibit, the movements in the sequence are rather like brush strokes on a canvas; just this time it’s blood instead of paint. Of course, we can’t talk about Gretchen without mentioning that sublime head of hair, it’s very futuristic Anna Wintour and we are all living for it. Gretchen is almost always carrying that hefty Birkin bag, proving yet again that a staple accessory can be somewhat of a statement piece. 

Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo)

(Credit: Netflix)

She’s the definition of a boss; an anarchist rock chick turned art mogul with a skill in getting her own way. Whether it be employing Morf’s boyfriend as a spy, or inherently threatening Josephina, Rhodora is a hurricane in the art scene. Where her friends (and I use that term loosely) opt for subtle prints and muted tones, Rhodora is usually dressed in a bolder outfit. However, there’re times this is not the case. Whether it be an all-black leather look or dressed in all white elegance, her outfits always convey a power where some of the other cast members don’t. Her versatility is admirable as she’s so in tune with her own style that she doesn’t fear experimentation. Rhodora’s a great example of someone in tune with their style and personality, they work in a flawless unison that paints her as a force to be reckoned with. 

Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge)

(Credit: Netflix)

Jon’s a convincing gallery owner right down to the translucent glasses and Lando Calrissian moustache. Yes, he looks the part, but can’t seem to decipher between trash and art, which paints a hilarious picture of the art climate currently. It enforces the idea that the less a piece makes sense, the more it is worth. In his first scene, he’s wearing a very similar ensemble to Morf, but instead of the white shirt, he opted for a clashing floral print. His neckerchief scenes later anchor his style firmly in the ‘hipster’ ballpark, which seems to pair impeccably with the blasé attitude he flaunts. Dondon is a comical representation of the contemporary scene and even more, a humorous depiction of a millennial audience.

Josephina (Zawe Ashton) 

(Credit: Netflix)

There were moments throughout the movie when her styling was particularly chic, especially when anchored by her unique choice in jewelry. For instance, in her introductory scene, Josephina wore a pair of dangly eye-shaped earrings, a definite statement piece of the outfit. Her looks were somewhat derivative at times, it seemed she was ‘borrowing’ looks from her friends and adapting them to fit herself. Let’s face it, we all have a friend who does the same thing. However, Josephina did have one brilliant moment of fashionable excellence that was all her. Unfortunately, it was the moment she was killed by watercolours spilling from the paintings around her. The way the colours molded to her skin and traced the outline of her body was just like a fashion sketch. 


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