One of Netflix's next big original movie releases is Velvet Buzzsaw, a horror movie about the art world and the greedy people within it. (Murderous paintings come to life!) Velvet Buzzsaw stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a character named Morf Vandewalt, and while the story is clearly not based on reality (again, murderous paintings), is this oddly named role based on a real person?
The film — which has a large ensemble cast that also includes Toni Collette, John Malkovich, and Zawe Ashton — is about a group of people involved in the art world in Los Angeles. Gyllenhaal plays a critic, Collette plays a curator, Malkovich an artist, and Ashton a woman who finds the possessed art in her neighbor's home after he dies. She also discovers that some of the paint is blood. Yikes.
It doesn't seem that Morf is based on anyone in particular, but is more an amalgamation and a satire of what snobby contemporary art people are sometimes like — not the actual artists, but the people who are in it for the money. He's got big glasses, an odd name, and makes comments he seems to think are more witty than they actually are. He's basically like this guy:
And the character pokes fun at contemporary art just like this episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, where a man pretends to be an artist with the ridiculous name of Art Vandelay. (Yes, they took it from Seinfeld):
Page Six reported in November 2017 that Gyllenhaal was preparing for the role by "immersing himself in the LA art world." A source told the publication, "He plays an art critic in a revealing look at the art market in LA that involves billionaire collectors, gallerists, auctions and sales. He plays the critic and he’s busy doing research." So, it's possible that Gyllenhaal studied some real-life art critics and connoisseurs and based the character more heavily on some of them than others, but Morf isn't just one real person.
Before the trailer was released, the writer and director of the film, Dan Gilroy, spoke to Vanity Fair about the project, which he described as "a satirical thriller set in the big-money art world of L.A."
In the trailer, Morf says of the possessed found paintings, "As I research these, I'm starting to think there's a disgust for the world of money." And that's the idea at the heart of the film. Gilroy told Vanity Fair, "Contemporary art really began as a movement to provoke and challenge. And now it has been completely co-opted by big money and business." He continued, "It's a world that's in conflict with itself which, for me, is the perfect setting for a film — a world that has that much inherent dramatic potential."
Gilroy and Gyllenhaal previously worked together on 2014's Nightcrawler, which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and landed Gyllenhaal a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama. The movie also features actor Rene Russo, who is Gilroy's wife and who also stars in Velvet Buzzsaw.
The film will be released on Netflix on Feb. 1 and will premiere during the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 27. Won't be long now until you can check out a bespectacled Jake Gyllenhaal being haunted by paintings, safely from the comfort of your own home.