Lisa Cholodenko
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7.0 High Art (1998)
7.0 The Kids are All Right
7.0 Olive Kitteridge
7.0 Laurel Canyon

Lisa Cholodenko

High Art (1998) is a melodrama about a lesbian romance. It includes many lush and sensual scenes, presented through atmospheric cinematography, to the point that these scenes seem to be the real purpose of the film. The story is mostly a pretext for feminist propaganda It offers (perhaps involuntarily) a subtle description of bored (and boring) lives.

Syd is a young, ambitious, career woman who works for a photo magazine, and specifically for editor Dominique (a self-made woman). She has an uneventuful, boring private life, including a stereotypical relationship with boyfriend and housemate James, also a yuppie. One day, while taking a bath, she notices a leak in her ceiling and walks upstairs to inquire about the possible source. There she meets a crowd of characters that belong to a completely different world, to an underworld of drugs and sex and intellectual conversation. That crowd is centered around Lucy, who used to be famous as a fashion photographer but has long lost her professional appeal, and Greta, a heroin addict who used to be a Fassbinder actress. The two women are lovers. Lucy seems to be the "slave" in the relationship, while Greta even falls asleep during sex with her. Their male housemate, Arnie, does not seem to have other interests than drugs. Their friends, who come and go in a constant stupor, are no less decadent. Syd finds an excuse to go upstairs again (she still wants to fix the leak). These people look terribly depressed. Their lives seem to be massive failures. But, somehow, the more she learns about their lifestyle the more Syd is fascinated by it. She does drugs with them, then walks downstairs to make love with her boyfriend, but then she falls asleep on him.
Syd finds Lucy a job at the magazine. In the meantime, the innocent Syd has been completely corrupted by the crowd upstairs: she spends the evening sniffing cocaine with them. As she lies down next to Lucy, Lucy kisses her. Their kiss is interrupted by the discovery that Greta is lying unconscious in the tub (all dressed).
Syd has an argument with James, as she tells him how empty his life is. James, disgusted, moves out. Lucy and Syd go for a ride and romance in the car. Then they continue to make out home, Lucy teaching and reassuring Syd. Lucy also takes a few sensual pictures of Syd.
Dominique would like to cancel the deal with Lucy, and Syd has to use the "indiscreet" pictures of herself (that clearly betray their intimacy) to convince Dominique to go ahead with Lucy's piece.
While a bunch of males are partying with drugs in their living room, Greta and Lucy had their confrontation. Greta claims that she gave up a career in cinema for Lucy, but Lucy replies that she never had any career at all. Greta is a pathetic Sunset Boulevard-ian actress. However, Greta is still controlling Lucy through the drugs.
The following day, as Syd is leaving her office, she finds Arnie waiting for her downstairs: Lucy just died (presumably of an overdose).
Days later, Syd is flipping through the pages of the magazine and staring at the pictures taken by Lucy. Dominique is satisfied of her work: Lucy's work has given her an opportunity to advance in her career.
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