Acute Misfortune ended up being a very different film compared to what I usually watch when it comes to queer media. Focusing on late artist Adam Cullen and his young biographer Erik Jensen, I think the narrative brought forward some interesting questions about the kind of artistic talent society supports.
I was provided with a free digital screener of Acute Misfortune for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
Based on Adam Cullen’s biography written by Erik Jensen, scenes in Acute Misfortune will make you think, because it’s real. Cullen’s not some fictional character that was created to showcase how crazy certain artists can be. Erik’s not a fictional character created to display a toxic relationship. The film featured actual events that Cullen and Erik went through. It displayed how twisted certain individuals could become because of how society perceived them.
For those who might not know, Cullen‘s a controversial Australian painter who died in 2012 at the age of 46. His work focused on death, criminals, headless women, and more. Of course, certain people in the art community gravitated to his taste which led to him being quite celebrated. The attention and fame, according to this film, fed into his problematic personality.
How Cullen was placed on a pedestal made me think of the countless celebrities and influencers around the world. There’s just something in society (for some weird reason) that wants to separate the art from the artist. And in doing so, society provides such problematic and, in some instances, dangerous “artists” a free pass to do whatever they want.
Sean Connery recently died on October 31, 2020. While many are mourning the loss of such a Hollywood legend, apparently, according to certain reports Connery was okay with physically and psychologically harming women. People still talk about how the “talented” Woody Allen shouldn’t be boycotted because he’s produced amazing “art”. Even J.K. Rowling has given rise to discussions involving people wanting to excuse her comments about the transgender community over their love for the Harry Potter franchise.
With Acute Misfortune being based on what Jensen wrote, I appreciated how the real Jensen didn’t try to hide his faults when telling Cullen’s life story. You can see that Jensen was incredibly intrigued by Cullen. He even got shot (accidentally?) in the leg and still didn’t leave Cullen. There was an obsessiveness in play and I loved how it came across onscreen. And considering Jensen was only a 19-year-old queer young man when he met Cullen (an adult), how Jensen tried to make sense of his interactions with Cullen made sense. I didn’t like said interactions, but I understood them.
Coming to the technical side of this film, I think director Thomas M. Wright (who also co-wrote the script with Jensen) did an impressive job. I liked the use of visuals depicting certain scenes being played in reverse. I also liked how the camera was used to share the POV of our two leads. For example, during some of the scenes, when Jensen would talk to Cullen, the camera acted like Jensen’s eyes and only show Cullen to give us the young man’s POV.
Daniel Henshall‘s great as Adam Cullen. He, from what I could tell, put on and then lost actual weight to portray such a troubled character. Toby Wallace as Erik Jensen is incredible, too. And that’s a good thing because these two characters are always onscreen. It’s the acting that really helped showcase the emotions both characters went through, especially when they didn’t have any dialogue to deliver.
I think Acute Misfortune succeeded in showing how society should stop supporting the “troubled artist” narrative. It doesn’t help anyone. This film isn’t necessarily a celebration of Cullen’s work. It’s more about using the life story of such an artist to hopefully change (for the better) what kind of people society’s willing to readily support.
Acute Misfortune is currently available On Demand by Dark Star Pictures.
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Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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