May 4, 2006

“Art School” offers movie antidote for “M:i III”

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Take heart, art house movie fans:
Big bad Tom Cruise and his Hollywood thriller "Mission:
Impossible III" is not the only film in theaters on Friday.

Small-time director Terry Zwigoff, whose low-budget films
have won fans with quirky tales about people living on the edge
of mainstream America, sees his comedy "Art School
Confidential" open this week too.

For people interested in art -- and not just movies, but
painting, drawing and sculpting -- Zwigoff's dark and humorous
"Art School" offers a wry take on artistic ambition.

The story of an aspiring painter and art-school student is
far from that Hollywood action flick with a muscle-flexing hero
played by Cruise who saves the world.

Zwigoff's history as a musician, collector and director
might lead fans to think "Art School" is based on his life. But
he told Reuters it comes from the mind of writer Daniel Clowes,
whose comic book "Ghost World" he made into a movie in 2001.

"I did relate to it on the level of a filmmaker," Zwigoff
said. "I run into other filmmakers who have very successful
careers -- mostly based on the art of self-promotion."

Anyone following the media hype over "M:i III" knows Cruise
is atop the Hollywood heap in the art of promoting a film.

Zwigoff, 57, feels more comfortable at home in San
Francisco, away from movie crowds. He favors corduroy jeans and
cardigan sweaters. His hair seems perpetually mussed. He talks
in a low voice and favors tales of life's little oddities.

On the list of Zwigoff's personal ironies is the fact that
he has little interest in comics, despite the fact that his
breakthrough 1994 documentary "Crumb" centered on comic book
writer and artist Robert Crumb and "Ghost World" and "Art
School" are based on work by comic book writer Clowes.


Zwigoff did say, however, that transferring the comic flare
of Crumb and Clowes to movie screens is made easier because all
three share the same sense of aesthetics and humor.

"Art School" follows high school geek Jerome Platz who
longs to be a great painter like Picasso. But when Platz goes
to college -- the top-notch Strathmore Institute -- he finds
the competition tough and the creative egos supercharged.

He encounters boastful teachers, braggart students, art
groupies and a serial killer. To win the heart of his girl,
Jerome develops a creative style outside the mainstream, and as
any artist will say, life on the edge is a life well-lived.

Laughing at all the high-minded, art talk? Well, keep in
mind that one of Zwigoff's talents is to tell stories with his
tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

"The whole film, to me, was a playful meditation about
art," he said, about the movie.

Zwigoff has become increasingly successful at telling
stories about art and outsiders over the years. "Crumb" earned
him numerous awards from critics groups. "Ghost World," which
tells how two fringe dwellers become friends, earned him and
Clowes an Oscar nomination for screenwriting.

In 2003, his "Bad Santa" starring Billy Bob Thornton as a
man who dresses as Santa to rob stores at Christmas was his big
box office hit with global ticket sales of $76 million.

But success has yet to go to Zwigoff's head, he said.

Zwigoff does not consider himself a big Hollywood director.
He saves that distinction for Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor") and
Steven Spielberg, and he refuses to make a movie in which a
big-name box office draw, such as Cruise, is foisted upon him
or has greater influence in making a movie than the director.

"I cannot force myself to do that, not because I have any
integrity necessarily or arrogance about it. I just wouldn't
know how to direct a person who is wrong for a role," he said.

"I don't have that many years left, he added. "The films I
want to make, I really want to be passionate about."