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High Art

Director: Lisa Cholodenko


Fresh-faced Syd (Radha Mitchell of Love and Other Catastrophes) works as an assistant on an arty New York photography magazine and lives with her boyfriend in a rundown but chic apartment. Investigating a leak filtering down from upstairs, she discovers the enigmatic Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy), a former photographer who dropped out and is now at the centre of a group of heroin addicts who hang out in her flat. Seeing examples of lucy’s work, Syd is very impressed and suggests that her magazine might be interested. Much to the annoyance of her boyfriend, Syd is soon paying regular visits upstairs, indulging in a little drug-taking, and developing a deeper interest in Lucy.
Lisa Cholodenko’s impressive first feature is very sharp about the world it depicts and the characters who people it. The ambitious Syd pushes Lucy to her magazine not only because she appreciates the work and is attracted to Lucy, but also as a means of furthering her own career. Similarly, Lucy plays along with the idea of doing a photo shoot because it might provide an escape for her dead-end life, but also because she sees Syd as a possible replacement for her present lover, Greta (Patricia Clarkson), a washed-up German movie star (in an amusing aside, Greta is described as Fassbinder’s muse).
The private and the professional tensions are combined in the photo shoot, when Lucy makes Syd her subject and photographs her after their love-making. Dramatically and emotionally, this brilliant sequence provides the key to the film. Cleverly, Cholodenko also uses it to show how the commercial art world has exploited so-called ‘Personal’ photography, where the subjects are not professional models but ‘real’ people.

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