CHATSWORTH, Calif. - Ever feel a little alienated from what's going on around you? Ever feel as if most of the people you come in contact with daily don't have a clue about your inner life, don't share your fantasies ... and might even be weirded out if they knew what those fantasies were?
If you answered "Yes" to those questions – not to mention the myriad other similar ones that occurred to you before you decided to enter the adult industry – maybe Fur is a movie you can enjoy.
The focus is on Diane (pronounced "Dee-AHN") Arbus, a familiar name to anyone who's into the art of photography, here portrayed with consummate skill by Nicole Kidman But this is not THE Diane Arbus, as text at the beginning and end of this movie points out. While MGM optioned Patricia Bosworth's biography of the artist years ago (for Diane Keaton), the events depicted here are fictitious – a fact that made some reviewers dismiss the film as essentially a fraud on viewers.
But no one should be fooled ... or disappointed. After all, the movie's subtitle is "An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus," and creating fictional storylines for historical figures – aka "dramatization" – has a long history in Hollywood, with films like Where the Buffalo Roam, featuring a fictionalized Hunter S. Thompson, and parts of Kevin Spacey's portrayal of Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea coming quickly to mind.
Arbus, who committed suicide in 1971, was an internationally-known photographer, most celebrated for her depictions of "outsiders," which included "transvestites, dwarves, giants, prostitutes and ordinary citizens in poses and setting conveying a disturbing uncanniness," according to her entry in Wikipedia.
But Fur is a tale of what Arbus' life might have been like before she began shooting with her famous medium-format twin-les Rolliflex, and from the moment the story finds its way inside the Arbuses' combination home/studio, the dichotomy of her life is set. The apartment is pure 1950s, with pastel walls, and the guests arriving for a showing of Diane's father's latest fur coat creations are the perfect image of haute couture of the time. (It's definitely Oscar time for this film's art director.)
But Diane doesn't fit well into this scene. Asked to introduce the show, she stammers nervously and is flustered when an audience member asks what her role in the family photography business entails. Diane's response is to run tearfully from the showroom and out onto an open patio, where she seems almost driven to unbutton her dress, revealing her white bra/corset for anyone in the surrounding mid-rise apartment buildings to see.
At this point it's obvious to the viewer, if not Diane herself, that she's way out of place in this world of high fashion and fashion photography. (Her husband, Allan [Ty Burrell], has had layouts in all the major fashion magazines, and his work appears in many ads in the New York Times.) (If the name "Allan Arbus" seems familiar, it's because he later abandoned his photography profession and became an actor, appearing regularly as psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Friedman on the TV series M*A*S*H.)
But everything changes after Diane spots the mysterious, masked Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey, Jr.) moving into an upstairs apartment, and when Diane finds that massive amounts of hair from the upstairs drain has clogged her pipes, she decides to confront Sweeney about his "dogs" – and to ask to him to pose for her camera.
But Sweeney has no dogs; just a rabbit and a few rodents. He does, however, suffer from hypertrichosis, a condition of excessive body hair sometimes known as "werewolf syndrome" – a condition he puts to good use as a wigmaker. ("When life gives you lemons ...")
Diane is intrigued by Lionel – something he knows even before she does – and the bulk of the rest of the film chronicles his slow seduction of his repressed-but-struggling neighbor. Within moments of their meeting, Lionel has convinced Diane to shed her dress (but not her undies) and share his (majorly anachronistic) tiled Roman bathtub with him, and urged her to peep on armless neighbor Althea (Mary Duffy). Later, he takes her to a nightclub to meet assorted freaks, midgets and trannies, many of whom are Lionel's wig clients, and with all of whom Diane forms an immediate bond that even she doesn't quite understand. All this happens, of course, while at home, Allan becomes confused and sullen as he tends to the business and the raising of the couple's two daughters.
A poker party Diane throws for Lionel and his friends goes badly, with Allan unable to cope with having this collection of body oddities so close to his sanctuary, and later, when Diane brings Lionel along for dinner with her parents (Harris Yulin, Jane Alexander), no one but her seems comfortable with Lionel's hirsuitism. Slowly, Diane is becoming estranged from everyone she's previously known and "loved."
What she doesn't know, however, is that Lionel is dying from some unspecified lung condition, and within months, he'll no longer be able to breathe ... so he finally agrees to sit for Diane's portrait of him, but only after she shaves him completely ... and fucks him, in the film's only nude scene. He then takes Diane along to his favorite place, a beach on the east side of Long Island, where he swims further and further out to sea, never to return.
Fur is definitely a strange movie, one of Kidman's best, and one that will probably become a cult classic in years to come, along with much of David Lynch's work. (In fact, parts of Fur reminded us of his Eraserhead.) And while Fur is far from a perfect film, its reflections on the alienation often felt by true artists, and how they deal with it, shouldn't be missed by the creative elements of the adult industry.