Netflix's latest, Velvet Buzzsaw, gives audiences both a supernatural horror film and a biting critique art criticism, but while the film centers on the art world it takes inspiration from a very unexpected source -- the failed film Superman Lives.
Note: spoilers for Velvet Buzzsaw below.
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, Velvet Buzzsaw tells the story of art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) and art gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) who get wrapped up in the work of a deceased artist named Vetril Dease after Josephina finds a stockpile of his work in his apartment. She steals the paintings and all three set out to profit from them, through exhibition, sale, and writing a book about the work. However the art is, for lack of a better term, haunted and soon begins attacking and killing those attempting to profit from it. The result is the gruesome deaths of many involved. The film ends with abstract artist Piers (John Malkovich,) who had been deeply interested in the work, drawing on the beach with the waves washing it all away.
It's that ending scene on the beach that Gilroy told Polygon comes directly from his own experience with Superman Lives. The film was a proposed Superman project dating back to 1996 with Gilroy as one of the numerous writers involved with the project that was to be directed by Tim Burton. However, right before the film was set to begin shooting, Warner Bros. cancelled it -- a move that changed the direction of Gilroy's career.
"I remember being just devastated," Gilroy said. "I'd worked for a year and a half. This was going to be a massive film for me. I was so excited. So I drove down to Santa Monica, and I sat on the beach, and I was just trying to process this year and a half, and I thought, 'Wow, I could have written all of those words on the beach in the sand, and the waves could have just washed them away.' That's pretty much the relevance of what I just went through."
However, Gilroy went on to explain that he began to realize that the time wasn't wasted as he grew as a writer from it and led him to start working on projects that mattered to him, not just what he was hired for. It's that decision that ultimately led him to Velvet Buzzsaw as well as that final scene.
"And I made peace before I got up from that beach that I was going to really be working on things that I got satisfaction out of, and that led me to Nightcrawler," he said. "That led me to [Roman J. Israel, Esq]. It certainly led me to Velvet Buzzsaw. The last image of the film, the credit sequence, is John Malkovich drawing on the beach as the waves are washing away the images. And those images are just as relevant, even though they're about to be washed away. That sells at Sotheby's for hundreds of millions of dollars."
What do you think about the Superman Lives connection to Velvet Buzzsaw? Let us know in the comments below.
Velvet Buzzsaw is now streaming on Netflix.
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