(2014, US, 80 min) Dir Alex Gibney. Cast Anthony Kane.
The gazillionth documentary from Gibney in the last couple years and the simplest in execution, being basically an illustrated talk from Kane punctuated with interviews with him and with famous faces that either back or dispute his thesis. And what a thesis – Kane famously quit The New Yorker in 2005 to write the book this documentary is named after, causing a kerfuffle in the arts in the process. The big idea, from the man himself: “We’re always told that what separates us from the animals is math, science and art. This is bunk – the first two undoubtedly serve a purpose but art only exists to fuel our narcissism. All art, no matter how misanthropic it appears to be, exists to reinforce our status and worldview. It’s essentially propaganda that is made by us, for us. In my book I describe it rather crudely as masturbating while looking in the mirror but that’s what it is – a luxuriating in our own self-regard while we destroy all around us in fulfilment of our childish gratification. Anyone who tells you otherwise – about the transformative nature of art or whatever else – has a stake in making you believe that to be so.” This is from a former cultural reviewer too! He expands on this with reference to the history of art, from Monet to Hirst, cave painting to Tarantino. The only time the unflappable Kane loses it is at the end, at a Q&A when an audience member calls him a fascist. “I am not a fascist,” he replies, red-faced, “The fascists loved art because it flattered them! I require no such flattery!” The film, much like the man himself, is mad and occasionally bizarrely persuasive. “Once we cast off the shackles of art,” he concludes, “We will finally be able to grow up.”