Big Eyes

One of the many fads from the 1950’s is a craze for paintings of children with big eyes. These prints are sold and marketed by a man named Walter Keane, played by Christoph Waltz. He claims credit for them, even though they are actually painted by his wife Margaret, played by Amy Adams. Walter is a charming man and a natural-born salesman and entrepreneur. It is his idea to make prints of the paintings and sell them in hardware and grocery stores. When he does interviews for slick national magazines and goes on talk shows, he sounds sincere and likeable. They would never attain the level of success they do if the shy and modest Margaret did the interviews. But Margaret grows resentful and uncomfortable with the dishonest arrangement and they divorce in 1965. In 1970, Margaret, after becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, reveals that she is the actual artist. Walter denies this and one of the strangest trials in history results.
The performances are terrific as you would expect with these two leads. Amy Adams is one of the most versatile and talented actresses around. She captures Margaret’s simmering resentment and yet you believe that she is a woman of her time, told to obey the males in her life and that is why she goes along with this for so long. Christoph Waltz is always a joy to watch. He makes Walter somewhat sympathetic. He loves art but can’t do it. And he doesn’t really value what he does best, selling things.
With its kitschy subject matter, we are well into director Tim Burton territory. He actually tones things down a little. There are no over-the-top visuals here, although he does capture the look of the 50’s and 60’s very well. He does a good job of depicting the attitudes toward women from that era. Early in the film, when Margaret is interviewing for a job after she leaves her first husband and moves to San Francisco, the male manager asks her if she has permission from her husband to get a job, and frowns disapprovingly when she says she’s separated from him. That reminded me very much of the stories my mother told me when she was entering the workplace during the same time period.
So this is a feminist story about a woman gradually gaining the confidence to claim credit for her work and get out from under male domination. In that sense it is an inspiring tale. And make no mistake what Walter does is reprehensible, but there is no way that these paintings would have been a success if it hadn’t been for Walter’s efforts. Google them sometime. They are awful and creepy. Andy Warhol loved them but kitsch played a large role in his artistic philosophy. The rest of the art establishment disdained them and in this case I have to agree with them. So Walter went directly to the people and to the media and it worked.
So in a way he deserves some credit, but he wanted to take it all and that is wrong.


1 Response to “Big Eyes”

  1. 1 Thomas Van Horne December 28, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    Funky Flashman. Jack Kirby was never as successful before or after his collaboration with Stan Lee.

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