The term "high art" can be interpreted in one of two ways: as a reference in opposition to the "low" art of the masses, or as an art which was created under the influence of drugs. Lisa Cholodenko's film plays on both terms since "High Art" tells the story of a photographer, Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy), and the young magazine editor, Syd (Radha Mitchell), who pursues both her work and her love. During the course of that pursuit, Syd becomes embroiled in Lucy's life of drugs and lesbianism.
Within the first few minutes of entering Lucy's world -- where her friend Arnie (Bill Sage) and lover Greta (Patricia Clarkson) are constantly high on heroin -- the formula for Cholodenko's critical success becomes audibly apparent. Everything slows down, but nothing so perceptibly as the music, which combines the sounds of jazz with the pace of a funeral dirge. Look hard and you'll see the glimmer from effete intellectuals' widened eyes reflecting throughout the darkened theater like laser light through a house of mirrors. "Genius," they're thinking. "Cholodenko has perfectly captured the pace of the heroin addict."
Cholodenko, however, has only chosen the path of least resistance, which qualifies her as neither a genius nor an artist. After all, what idiot would score a movie about heroin using, say, Big Band?
The commercial influence on Cholodenko's aesthetic becomes increasingly tiresome as the film plods forward. There's the obvious connection between Lucy's disappearance from the photography world and Sheedy's disappearance from the acting world. Syd's transformation to Lucy's love rug is catalyzed by Syd's sudden adaptation of the ol' Calvin Klein "starving 9-year-old junkie left out in the rain" look. Combine this with the slow, slow music and you'll emerge from the theater as though you'd just shot up yourself. Unfortunately, this drug is all withdrawal.
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