Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Film, Drama

Time Out says

The title spells it out: this is not a conventional biopic about the New York photographer whose obsession with circus ‘freaks’, transvestites and mental patients inspired her cruel, disturbing pictures of marginalised human ‘beauty’. Rather, it is a fantastical speculation about Diane Arbus’ metamorphosis from dutiful housewife, mother and assistant to her fashion photographer husband into fully-fledged artist in her own right. Superficially, ‘Secretary’ director Steven Shainberg’s film is conceptually bold; but it is also hermetically sealed off from reality. Anyone familiar with the facts of Arbus’ life will wonder why neither they nor her images feature anywhere; those unfamiliar with her life and work will leave the film none the wiser.

The conceit of a ‘Through the Looking Glass’-style meeting between Arbus (Nicole Kidman) and her secretive new neighbour – hirsute ‘Wolf Man’ Lionel (Robert Downey Jr) – is a striking one. But the story of a 1950s housewife struggling to escape her stifling, middle-class life and give expression to her burgeoning artistic vision could not be more conventional. Although absurdly miscast as the fragile, bird-like Arbus, the statuesque Kidman exudes a fluttery, neurotic excitement. As the seductive Lionel, Downey Jr bristles with confidence: at ease with his hairy self, he is also loved and supported by his circle of oddball friends. The neurotic beauty to Lionel’s sexy beast, Arbus trembles on the edge of self-discovery as she crosses into her neighbour’s strange, enticing world.

Shainberg plays fast and loose with the facts, which might have been justified had it led to some profound artistic or psychological insights. As it stands, his film illuminates Arbus’ artistically brilliant, emotionally unstable life for no longer than the popping of a flash bulb.

By: Nigel Floyd



Release details

Release date:
Friday March 16 2007
122 mins

Cast and crew

Steven Shainberg
Erin Cressida Wilson
Nicole Kidman
Robert Downey Jr
Ty Burrell
Harris Yulin
Jane Alexander
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