Diane Arbus has always been a fascinating figure from the annals of documentary-style photography. FUR, starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr. examines her life through a fictional lens, utilizing factual components of Arbus’s life and spinning a fantasy tale of a freakish neighbor turned love interest—perhaps a cinematic representation of what may have been the pictures Arbus took with her soul rather than her camera. Secretary director Steven Shainberg directs Kidman’s portrayal of Arbus, the well-to-do Manhattan wife who becomes one of the twentieth century’s most revered photographers, as a beautiful, sad soul oppressed by only her limitless heart and curiosity of vision. Shainberg used Patricia Bosworth’s book ‘Diane Arbus: A Biography’ as a source, and Shainberg and writer Erin Cressida Wilson, reunited after their highly successful 2003 Secretary, to take this leap into Arbus’ “inner life”. Arbus begins her journey on a bus to a nudist camp to become a sometime resident photographer. We then see her three months prior, in1958, hosting a party in New York City.
James Mottram, Channel 4:
“Her husband Allan is a photographer, who has recently been shooting ad campaigns for the latest furs at an exclusive Fifth Avenue department store owned by Diane’s father. A devoted wife and mother-of-two, Diane is also her husband’s assistant—but it soon becomes clear that she has long since repressed any dreams of her own artistic expression. What—or rather who—brings Diane out of her domesticated shell is the subject of Fur. It is her mysterious (fictional) new neighbour, Lionel Sweeney (Downey Jr.) who helps launch Diane into a wider world. Afflicted with a rare condition that causes hair to sprout all over his face and body—as a teenager shaving proved pointless because “it grew back so quickly, it was hardly worth the effort”—it’s no surprise that Lionel used to eke out a living as a circus freak. Now making money by spinning wigs from his excess hair, Lionel hangs out with other ‘outsiders’—from dwarves to a dominatrix—who accept him for who he is. But once he reveals the full extent of his condition to Diane, she does not back away; rather she finds genuine friendship with Lionel, at the expense of her life with Allan (who even grows a beard at one point in a desperate hope of winning her round) and her children.”
Diane begins to venture into Lionel’s world promising to eventually take his portrait, though we never see him in his furry glory as one of Arbus’ subjects until the bitter end.
This is a haunting, dreamlike film that Kidman drives with subtle strength and watery expression. Arbus’ resolve to capture these mystical creatures of life comes through clearly, even through an aperture rarely used.