Movie Review: Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

After viewing this film, I can say I had some sort of emotional reaction: a fusion of confusion and dissatisfaction. I learned more about Diane Arbus on the Internet than whatever it was I saw a few days ago.

In a loosely based cinematic account on the photographer’s life (as told by the disclaimer at the beginning of the film), Diane Arbus comes into contact with a man with a severe hair problem and begins to take pictures of people like him and make a career out of it.

The dialogue is delivered so softly that controlling the volume becomes a moot point. It became a guessing game as to whatever was said because it was borderline unintelligible. A train could’ve gone by outside the theater and nothing would be missed.

Robert Downey Jr., in a more muted role, is hidden underneath all that hair. All we have to work with for the most part are the sad dog eyes. His cryptic mannerisms and residence seem to belong more in a Lynch film than a regular city.

True, this is no Elephant Man. The time period in which both films were set as well as the level of acceptance of diversity are very different. With The Elephant Man, it was a time of where sideshow attractions were made to be laughed at. They had no human quality. There was no way they could be accepted in any form of society except for whatever friends he may have. John Merrick had to try to be accepted as a member of society and had some bumps along the road. Here, Lionel just likes to keep his own distance. When he is introduced to the Arbus family, the acceptance is immediate and leads to the resolution of that conflict of acceptance.

The fur fetish, I guess you can call it that, isn’t really explained. Diane just likes the feeling of fur against her skin. We just have to accept it and move on. Watching the shaving scene with other people was just plain awkward and uncomfortable. Really, really uncomfortable. Yes, it would help save his life but it wasn’t meant to be.

As soon as Diane took the portrait of Lionel, I immediately shouted “Purple!” and, needless to say, got some looks. When I took Editing last semester, I was taught that when purple is used in film, most of the time it means death. As a supplement, we were shown the montage from Up where we see Carl and Ellie together and the purple became more obvious and depressing when the montage finished. Now that I mentioned the purple connection, Diane cleans the camera lens with a purple cloth and takes Lionel’s image, the only one before he dies.

Fur what it’s worth, I would rather read the actual biography of Diane Arbus than watch this again. The trailer doesn’t really help make things clearer as it comes off as a horror movie instead of an intimate biopic. It may work as a recut trailer but not for the main trailer.


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