Boogie Woogie: a user's guide

It may not be the art world's answer to 'The Player' but Duncan Ward's film satire of the art world does provide plenty of fun and games

  • Boogie Woogie: a user's guide

    Danny Huston as Art Spindle in 'Boogie Woogie'

  • Even by the often harsh standards of satire, director Duncan Ward’s debut feature, ‘Boogie Woogie’ is a wildly grotesque caricature of an art world corrupted absolutely by greed, lust and revenge. A star-studded cast transports the original, even raunchier and more cocaine-fuelled novel, by art-insider Danny Moynihan, from the polished floors of the commercial galleries of New York to its London equivalents. But are we as shallow, craven and over-sexed over here?

    ‘It’s an exaggeration, but all the characters can be found in London,’ says Ward of his decision not to film on location in the prohibitively expensive Big Apple. ‘The art world used to be a lot more unnoticed and its escapades more appalling. The small circle of artists that became celebrities around the time of New Labour and had their private lives splashed over the newspapers, have all – unlike New Labour – straightened up as they got older and richer. “Boogie Woogie” represents their last hurrah, when their juices were still flowing.’

    There’s an element of British farce in the string of indecent and incestuous proposals that propel the film’s intertwining structure along, but any comparison with Robert Altman’s classic send-up of the film business ‘The Player’ may be wishful thinking. The confrontation of big-name Hollywood actors with up-and-coming Brit-parts feels more ‘Sliding Doors’ than anything else, although Ward is right to say that, ‘You don’t need foreknowledge of the art world because it’s about how people behave’. Despite his other assurance that, ‘I didn’t want to make a movie flinging pots of paint at the very people we live among’, the most fun to be had is in spotting the film’s unflattering portrayals of art world types – and not just the Damiens and the Traceys. See if you recognise someone you know or, as the invite to the premiere says, ‘Come as a character… Oh, you are one already…’

    Rogue's gallery

    The Rhinegolds (played by Joanna Lumley and Christopher Lee)
    Alfred and Alfreda’s bickering over the £40-million sale of Mondrian’s first ‘Boogie Woogie’ painting anchors the whole story. The old duffer refuses to part with his prized possession – ‘I got it from the meister himself’ he hisses – while she tries to wrest it away from him with the help of their scheming butler. ‘They’re the last vestiges of genuine, passionate collectors,’ says Ward, ‘but also proof of that genetically ordained arrangement in which wealth attracts good-looking women.’

    Art Spindle (Danny Huston)
    ‘Everyone has a price’ is the motto of this overbearing, monomaniacal art dealer, who is played to full turtle-necked, bespectacled potential by Huston. But isn’t it a too-obvious likeness for White Cube’s honcho Jay Jopling? ‘Of course, Jay looms large but I’d never say it was him. He needed to be Machiavellian and charming at the same time, but Art has his own secrets.’

    The Maclestones (Stellan Skarsgård, Gillian Anderson)
    These gormless and gullible collectors, Bob and Jean, are the stereotype of the art couple – he has the money and the eye for art, she’s the bored wife in search of artists as bedroom playthings. ‘Jean suffers from “status anxiety”,’ says Ward of Anderson’s brilliantly breathy and needy performance, ‘she buys art to get on invitation lists.’

    Elaine (Jaime Winstone)
    This butch lesbian video artist (need I go on?) captures the art scene’s seedy underbelly and philandering ways in her self-portrait film. ‘By making her private life public, she’s an amusing collage of Tracey Emin and some lesser known artists,’ says Ward, ‘but it’s also a prank on video art and reveals how characters can be attractive and deplorable at the same time.’

    Dewey (Alan Cumming)
    This sappy curator – whose idea for a show on ‘Deviant Mythology’ falls on deaf ears but is later ripped off – is the film’s doormat: eventually reduced to self-harming and, worse still, seeking employment as dog-walker to the Maclestones’ poodles, Matisse and Picasso. ‘You run into an army of wannabe curators on the rungs of the MC Escher-like stairwell,’ adds Ward.

    Beth (Heather Graham)
    Employee and eventual traitor to Art Spindle, Beth comes out of his shadow to open her own gallery, much as countless dealerships were set up after stints working with legendary London gallerist Anthony D’Offay. ‘She’s the fetishised blonde object but is also capable of great ambition and is prepared to go to whatever lengths to get what she wants.’

    Paige (Amanda Seyfried)
    Rich daddy gets lithe young Paige a job at the gallery where she has to deflect the advances of her boss, the lothario artist and the slimy collector. ‘She’s the younger, savvier blond and adds a weird texture – even a part of her body becomes a work of art.’

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