starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Jon Polito, Krysten Ritter and Terence Stamp
written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
directed by Tim Burton
Walter Keane (1915-2000) was an American art plagiarist who became famous in the 1960s by claiming credit for his wife, Margaret’s work, artwork that typically featured large-eyed little girls, called Waifs. I didn’t know this when I rented the DVD, but I watched the film and then checked on the Internet to confirm and learn more. Keane could be very charming and he was a great promoter and salesman. I mean, he was a good talker and people bought it. Along the way - this was the era of Andy Warhol’s greatest celebrity - he tapped into the pop art market by selling posters as art, producing coffee table books, etc.
The 1950s and 60s were a different time for American women. As a divorcee and single mother Margaret was in a very vulnerable position and dependent on people in power, always men. Men employed her. Men bought her work. Men sold it. A man robbed her of credit for it. Walter used their commercial success to blackmail Margaret into being an indentured painter, hidden from view while slaving in a private studio to produce a stream of Waifs for her husband - a stream of revenue. Eventually Margaret left Walter, sued him, convinced a court that she was the real artist of the famous Keane Waifs, and won a large settlement. Walter died penniless, still stubbornly insisting that he was the real artist.
Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, 2009) delivers a fantastic performance. It was difficult to watch because his character was such a unctuous creep. But Waltz made him a little funny as well.
I like Terence Stamp. Like Michael Douglas, Stamp seems to excel at prince-of-darkness kind of characters. I think it’s a combination of his posture, his stare and his voice that make him a scary looking guy. In Big Eyes Stamp plays art critic John Canaday, the sober voice of critical reason penetrating the out-of-control euphoria surrounding the Waifs.
“All she had were her paintings in the trunk and her daughter in the back seat.”