Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus


Writers and directors can get some pretty weird ideas. Sometimes these experiments work, sometimes they don’t. Maybe the all-time worst was Gus Van Sant’s decision to remake Psycho shot-for-shot, and in color. Then there was I’m Not There, where six different actors, including Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett, and a 14-year-old black kid played “Bob Dylan” in made-up scenes. As the title says, this is an imaginary portrait, so there’s no point in complaining about accuracy. To sum it up, it is all fiction except the fact that there was a deeply weird woman named Diane (pronounced Dee-ann) Arbus (Nicole Kidman), and she took photographs. You will not see any of these as the Arbus estate wouldn’t allow their use. Another thing to note is that, though from about the halfway point she carries a Rolleiflex camera around, we never see her click the shutter. We see some of her photos, where she basically takes the same three shots over and over and over.

It’s about her relationship with a neighbor (Robert Downey, Jr.) who has hypertrichosis, a condition where long hair grows all over your face and body. Google it and you’ll see some pictures. Most of them found work in the freak show business, going by names like Jo-Jo the Dog-faced Man, Lionel the Lion-faced Man (carnies are not the most original people in the world) and various bearded ladies. No such person as the one depicted here existed. He is made up. In the movie Arbus becomes fascinated with him, falls in love before giving him a whole-body shave. This is in character, because Arbus mostly took portraits, and many of them are what we used to call freaks. The rest of her portfolio ran to old people and grotesques of various types.

Kind of hard to know what to make of this film. I was interested, it kept me watching, but when it was over I wished there had been a real bio, or at least as real as these things get. And although I have admired Nicole “Whisperin Aussie” Kidman in many things, it sometimes feels like it’s been since Cold Mountain that she actually spoke in a volume the human ear can hear! I would never, neve go see her in a theater again. I will only watch her on DVD, where I can turn on the friggin’ subtitles!” Are you listening, Nicole?