“Nine ½ Weeks” (1986)

Kim Basinger in

Kim Basinger in “Nine ½ Weeks”

Kim Basinger gets in over her head when she becomes romantically involved with a wealthy Wall Street banker (Mickey Rourke) who pushes the limits of her sexual boundaries. When the two of them aren’t doing it in a clock tower or rolling around in food, Basinger’s character, Elizabeth, is an assistant at a trendy SoHo art gallery. In her day-to-day work life (from which she is increasingly distracted), she handles the preparations for an upcoming exhibition by an elderly painter who lives alone in the country.

Kim Basinger in

How the directors of the Spring Street Gallery found the seemingly unknown Mathew Farnsworth (Dwight Weist) isn’t clear, but they are certainly taking a risk by showing his paintings. In one scene, Elizabeth presents a somber canvas to a hard-nosed art collector, slumping in his chair, completely bored. At his side is his pouting Boxer (equally nonplussed) who skeptically tilts his canine head.

Works by George Segal in

Works by George Segal in “Nine ½ Weeks”

The gallery, itself, is believable onscreen, and even features exhibitions by actual artists George Segal and Sarah Charlesworth as the backdrops for some early scenes. Harvey, the gallery’s director (David Margulies), comes across as a warm-hearted penny pincher when he orders hot water with lemon and Sweet’N Low, warning his assistant, “Don’t let ‘em charge you for it.” He explains, “I fast to save money.” His frugality and hands-on involvement with daily gallery operations give us a sense that he is in the business for the right reasons, i.e., his love of art. Harvey’s lack of affluence contrasts with what we usually see in Hollywood’s portrayal of art dealers, who are often presented as lecherous, greedy or even murderous (see Beverly Hills Cop, Legal Eagles, or Boogie Woogie, for example). From the media’s perspective, it seems an art dealer’s poverty is in direct proportion to his benevolence.

David Margulies and the work of Sarah Charlesworth Kim in

David Margulies and the work of Sarah Charlesworth in “Nine ½ Weeks”

On the other hand, Farnsworth is a weirdo, which aligns perfectly with the typical representations of artists in film and television. Three weeks before the opening of his show, the gallery is unable to contact him and they still don’t have all of his paintings. Fortunately, Elizabeth breaks out of her sex-trance long enough to head to the country and track him down. She finds Farnsworth sitting alone outside his secluded cottage, noodling with a dead fish and turning it over in his fingers, like a baby who has never seen one before. Elizabeth asks him if he even remembers he is having a show and he replies, “I remember to eat when I’m hungry and I remember to sleep when I’m tired” (he has only two lines in the entire film).

Kim Basinger and Dwight Weist in

Kim Basinger and Dwight Weist in “Nine ½ Weeks”

When Farnsworth’s show finally opens, the “fish out of water” metaphor alluded to earlier comes full circle. While his work is well received, he has nothing to say to the hipsters with mohawks and jelly bracelets buzzing around him. A colleague of Elizabeth’s refers to him as “creepy” and speculates that he might be “sub-literate or preverbal” because of the way he stares at them. As the gallery pulses with downtown decadence (Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones even has a cameo), Farnsworth appears exasperated and beleaguered. The camera then cuts to yet another fish being sliced up and doled out onto hungry party-goers’ plates (Get it?). Elizabeth looks on at his discomfort, sobbing, as if to say, “I’m a fish out of water, too, and I need to end my kinky dom/sub relationship as soon as possible!”

Ron Wood in

Ron Wood in “Nine ½ Weeks”

Dwight Weist, David Margulies and Karen Young in

Dwight Weist, David Margulies and Karen Young in “Nine ½ Weeks”

We often think of artists purely as city dwellers, their lives intertwined by necessity with the culture of metropolitan centers. It’s true that in cities, an artist is more likely to find a wider audience, but some decide they are better off without any outside interference. Lee Bontecou famously withdrew from the art world, retreating for decades to rural Pennsylvania in order to work without external pressures. She eventually reemerged into the public eye as the focus of several major shows and retrospectives, and her obscurity certainly amplified our curiosity about her.

The fate of Farnsworth’s career remains a cliffhanger, however. Since he doesn’t appear in the film’s (probably terrible) sequel, Another Nine ½ Weeks (1997), we’ll never know if he learned to swim in the cutthroat New York art world, or if it just chewed him up and spat him out.

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“Beetlejuice” (1988)

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Rurbanism is a silly buzzword for what one might call the “urban-rural confluence.” In other words, it’s what happens when city dwellers leave their metropolitan environments for the country and bring their cultural interests with them.

In Tim Burton’s 1988 film “Beetlejuice,” Charles Deetz (Jeffrey Jones) relocates his eccentric family from New York City to a country house in the fictional town of Winter River, Connecticut, following a nervous breakdown. His artist wife, Delia (Catherine O’Hara), is initially unhappy with the decision. “Charles, I will not stop living and breathing art just because you need to relax!” she protests. But when they discover that the house is haunted, Delia can’t get enough of the supernatural antics (translation: artists are weird and they like weird things).

The ghosts haunting them, the recently deceased Adam and Barbara Maitland (played by Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin before he was scary in real life), are the polar opposites of the Deetzes. Mild mannered and humble, all they want is for the intruding urbanites to leave them in peace. Meanwhile, Delia has already begun redecorating the house to remove any trace of their rustic sensibilities as Charles plots ways to profit from the paranormal spectacle (translation: city slickers are greedy and they only care about money).

Helping Delia to transform her drab surroundings is a catty interior designer named Otho (Glenn Shadix). The smirking Otho, who struts about in black suits and kimonos, is here to make sure you know that anyone interested in contemporary aesthetics is an asshole. “You’re lucky the yuppies are buying condos,” he tells Charles, “so you can afford what I’m going to have to do to this place.” What he does involves a lot of faux granite finish, glass block windows and comical yellow slabs that jut out of the house’s façade.


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For her part, Delia seems even more high-strung and fragile out of her comfort zone than her nerve-wracked hubby. While the movers are handling her sculptures, which look like props from a dinosaur’s Halloween party, she barks at them to be careful. From the looks on their faces, it’s clear the men do not recognize the value of her work, and when Delia accidentally gets pinned underneath one of her own pieces, she totally deserves it.


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After they modernize the place, they Deetzes host a dinner party for their nasty city friends, one of whom writes for Art in America. The group hurls insults at one another across the dining room table, but their bickering is ultimately interrupted when they are supernaturally possessed by Adam and Barbara. Spoiling their cool aloofness, the ghosts manipulate them like puppets, forcing them to do the calypso and lip-sync to Harry Belafonte.

 

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The Deetzes and their paranormal cohabitants eventually find a way to coexist, largely facilitated by their daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder), who can liaise with the dead because she’s goth. Delia even channels spectral inspiration into her sculpture and lands the cover of Art in America.

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While Winter River, Connecticut, doesn’t actually exist, rurbanism is a very real phenomenon in towns like Hudson, New York. The upstate community, with a population of roughly 6,700 people, has seen a recent influx of New York City galleries opening secondary spaces on its main drag, Warren Street. A couple of blocks away is the future site of the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI), a museum space for “long-durational works.” No doubt, if the Deetzes were around, they would be trolling Hudson’s real estate market for haunted houses.

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