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Local Color

Cretin that I am, unable to understand why anyone would spend their time looking at pictures that don’t move, I take no sides in the argument between representational and abstract art. I’m sure there is more than enough museum space to represent all kinds of art to the satisfaction of people interested in it—it’s not a zero-sum game.

George Gallo feels differently. Best known as the scripter of Midnight Run and director of a handful of action comedies that aren’t nearly in that league, Gallo began as a painter and picked his brushes back up during a droop in his Hollywood career in the 1990s. The loosely autobiographical Local Color was inspired by his experiences in the summer of 1974, when as an 18-year-old artist in upstate New York he was taken under the wing of a painter here named Nicoli Seroff (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl). A Russian émigré with a tragic past, Seroff has given up on painting since his representational style has been declared passé by “critics and art magazines” (pronounced as if with a mouthful of horse manure). John (Trevor Morgan), the Gallo surrogate, persuades him to take him to his Pennsylvania summer home to teach him what he knows. What he—and of course we—get is less an appreciation for classical styles of painting than a 107-minute rant against abstract painting.

There’s not much plot to stand in the way of this extended harangue. Even before the story starts, as if he can’t wait to get his teeth into his subject, a narrator growls that “There’s always some jerkoff who stands in criticism of what you do” unless “You’re making the world a little more ugly—any asshole can see how ugly things are.” (The audience that might be expected to warm to Gallo’s defense of beauty in art is likely to be offended by the endless inappropriate profanity.)

The film hits rock bottom with an idiotic scene in which Seroff gets his friend, an art curator played by an embarrassingly camp Ron Perlman, to gush over a series of water colors which he reveals to have been painted by a class of Down syndrome children. How does this guy treat the people he doesn’t like? The press notes mention at several points that Gallo sank a lot of his own money into this production. But while I’m sorry for his losses, I can hardly recommend this alternately meanspirited and mawkish movie.

m. faust

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