Even if you’re not entirely familiar with street artist Banksy, you’ve undoubtedly seen his work pop up online and most assuredly heard of him after 2010 documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Banksy directed the film, which in part tells the story of the early days of street art, but also shows how Thierry Guetta — also known as Mr. Brainwash — became an overnight creative sensation. The film raises a number of interesting questions about the nature of art in general, but perhaps the bigger subject is the validity of the doc — a point of debate amongst critics, the art community, and casual fans. As an artist with a penchant for satire — the nature of his work entirely subversive — many assumed the movie was a meticulous performance by Banksy, despite claims by the director that it was the real deal. We may never truly know if the film was a huge prank, but even if it is a social statement by the artist it seems entirely fitting of his canon.
Known primarily for her photography, Cindy Sherman has made a career out of crafting fascinating identities for her mythical “self-portraits” in which she literally becomes a different person. Sherman takes that notion of invisibility to her debut feature film Office Killer — a horror-comedy that depicts the gruesome metamorphosis of a downsized employee who has trouble coping with their diminished role. Like her work, Office Killer has all the high drama, unusual humor, and clever references a Sherman fan could want. The artist’s emphasis on feminine roles in society is cunningly twisted in Hitchcockian fashion with the part of a female killer.
It’s not unusual to hear art-savvy moviegoers describe Julian Schnabel’s films as better than his paintings. The 1980s art star has had a strange creative cross to bear as his films have drawn attention away from his painterly pursuits. Even though Schnabel’s bravado has often made it difficult to like him as both artist and filmmaker, his work speaks for itself. Basquiat — about tragic hero Jean-Michel Basquiat — benefited from Schnabel’s intimate view of the New York art scene and personal relationship with the artist. Later efforts like Before Night Falls — about persecuted Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas — and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly — about Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s inability to verbally communicate with the world after a paralyzing stroke — are beautifully impressionistic and have the conceptual allure that for many his paintings do not.
David Lynch’s earliest creative desires were for drawing and painting, not filmmaking. The gritty streets of Philadelphia and time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the late ’60s helped inspire a series of short films. Eventually Lynch made his way to California where his surrealist Eraserhead was born. From there his darkly alluring filmography slowly took shape. It’s been six years since his last feature (it was a five year wait between movies before Inland Empire appeared), but Lynch has plenty to keep him busy — including a music career and newly released album. Art remains a large part of his life, however. In case you had any doubt that his films and paintings were largely similar, Lynch offers this juicy and telling tidbit about his process:
“When it comes to painting, it’s the darker things I find really beautiful. All my paintings are organic, violent comedies. They have to be violently done, and primitive and crude, and to achieve that I try to let nature paint more than I paint, and stay out of the way as much as I can. In fact, I don’t paint with a brush too much any more – I prefer to use my fingers. I’d bite them if I could.”
Apart from being technically impressive, there’s a beautiful stillness and lyricism in Anton Corbijn’s film works that seems intrinsically connected to his career as a photographer. His experiences as a videomaker and photog in the music industry undoubtedly came in handy when filming the Ian Curtis biopic, Control. As is the case with his still images, Corbijn is comfortable with distance when it comes to his screen stories. Even assassin tale The American echoes the solitary sensibility seen in Corbijn’s multiple portraits.
Many cineastes fell for filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow back in the 1980s with the surreally prescient Strange Days and severely underrated vampire tale Near Dark, but her recent Academy Award for The Hurt Locker — which won her the title of first woman to receive a Best Director Oscar — brought great critical acclaim. Bigelow started her career as an artist, however. “I think part of my interest in art had to do with his yearning for something he could never have,” she said about her father, who was an unrealized cartoonist. The director pursued a fellowship with the Whitney Museum during college, and then studied with greats art notables like Vito Acconci and Susan Sontag during grad school. She joined conceptualist art collective Art & Language, but her experiments with film (and a master’s degree in criticism) brought her to the big screen.
Born into a richly creative family, filmmaker Sally Potter immediately seemed destined for art stardom. The director pursued dance, design, theater, music, and more, exploring feminist subjects — something that sprung to life on screen with the debut of her successful 16mm short film, Thriller. The movie is a retelling of Puccini’s La Bohème through Mimi’s (Colette Laffont) point of view. She would eventually take the same deconstructive approach in her later works like Orlando. Each film recalls the context of her earlier artistic efforts that also portrayed varying perspectives and tackled stereotypical representations, revealing the binary nature of all things.
Always one to go against the norm, Tim Burton spent his early days doodling for Disney as a storyboard and concept artist on films like The Black Cauldron, Tron, and The Fox and the Hound. When he realized that his style and approach didn’t quite jibe with the Mickey Mouse studio, he set out on his own and successfully found his footing amongst fellow quirksters like Pee-wee Herman for his first feature, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. That weird and wonderful spirit has carried throughout his directorial achievements, reflecting back on Burton’s own life story as a lonely outsider with a variety of daydreaming, man child misfit characters.
Postmodern guru David Salle made his directorial debut with Search and Destroy in 1995. Featuring an all-star cast — amongst them Dennis Hopper, Martin Scorsese, and Christopher Walken — the film was billed as “screwball tragedy” and reflects Salle’s artistic preoccupation (and one we all have, really) with reconciling individuality in a media-dominated world.
It seems strange to say that a film about Irish Republican Bobby Sands’ hunger strike at the Maze Prison in 1981 would be stunning to look at (Hunger), but artist-director Steve McQueen’s breathtaking imagery proves that there is beauty in the places we’d least expect them. The British talent shares a level of artistry in his challenging works — portrayed most recently in sex addiction tale Shame — that reveals a genuine passion for visual storytelling.