Big Eyes – Movie Review

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Big Eyes – Review by Irina Maleeva

A film that every woman should see, especially the young ones is “Big Eyes”. This is a story, hard to be believed which the two writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski found out was more than a fiction story of the lives of Margaret and Walter Keane, the top selling painters of the 1960’s.

They researched the story and decided to make a movie of it as they said: “It’s a great piece of history that nobody knows and hardly anyone would believe.” Some people who know the paintings of the Keanes’ might think they were not the best painters, but what the authors of this film wanted to portray was the personal life and drama of Margaret Keane and at the same time discuss her art and the women’s movement she started.

Her husband Walter really invented “The mass marketing of art”, selling graphics, greeting cards and posters all over the world, at a time that neither he nor Margaret were accepted in any gallery. Margaret still today gives all the credit to Walter for her being discovered and glorified later in her life as a painter.

I met Margaret Keane a couple of years ago at a private exhibit and a party at Phyllis Morris Originals showroom. My husband had known her for many years and we have quite a few paintings from her “Ladies” collection, and some paintings of the kids with the “Big Eyes” attributed to her husband Walter Keane. Somehow I must admit I didn’t’ like those kids. Maybe because they looked so sad and maybe because I studied stage designing in Rome at Academia Di Belle Arti and paintings like those looked too much like forced post cards and all of them looked alike.

The period of her “Women” portraits was more interesting but somehow even if she liked Modigliani’s paintings of women and was influenced by him, those faces remained kind of empty and soulless, just like Walter Keane’s “Big Eyes” kids. So I wasn’t really a person who wanted more than one of those paintings in our house. They all looked forced and somehow empty. But when I met the lady, Margaret Keane and saw the paintings from her last period I totally changed my mind about her art. But before I continue talking about her art, I have to tell you about the film, “Big Eyes”.

The writers got her permission and her exclusive stories about her life to make this movie. Alexander and Karaszewski were to direct the movie and the addition of a producer like Tim Burton, who knew the art of Margaret Keane, made the whole difference. Tim Burton thought that “Art should not be legitimized by what critics said”, and did everything to make the film.

I have to tell you a few words about the plot in the film, which is Margaret Keane’s life. A divorced young woman and her child daughter are going away to another city to start a life without the child’s father. The mother is a shy young painter making some pennies by sketching kids at Art fairs but not being able to sell any of her “Big Eyed” kids paintings she meets a painter who was a real marketer and PR person who claimed to be the painter of the Paris street scenes.

They get married and very soon he starts to sell her “Big eyed” kids as his own paintings, his charming personality played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz (Walter Keane) who got several awards for his parts in “Inglorious Bastards” and “Django Unchained”. He plays the type of husband (Which Margaret Keane really had), who is the horror (and the monster) of every talented woman.

He sells Margaret’s art (The kids) by saying that he is the painter. When she finds out, and is upset with him – he tells her that people won’t buy those paintings if they knew she was the painter, but they buy them from him. He tells her that women were not considered artists (which of course was not true). As Margaret wanted a life for herself and her daughter, she agrees to these arrangements and for 10 years keeps paintings those kids, so that he could sell them. She even hides that fact from her own daughter.

Until one day she finds out that Walter was not even the painter of the “Paris Streets Scenes”.  Walter was no painter at all.  And after a horrible fight and abuse from him, she decides to leave him and refuses to keep painting for him any longer. By then he had become a big selling name as a painter as nobody ever knew the truth. Even my husband, who knew the Keans at the time when they were together, didn’t know the truth.

He told me that the women’s portraits were done by her while “The Big Eyed” kids were painted by him. Obviously after she left him there were court proceedings and at the trial the truth came out.
Amy Adams plays the part of Margaret Keane and she portrays young Margaret in an incredible way. You just wonder what kind of a woman can spend 10 years of her life being exploited by her husband in such a way without saying a word to anyone not even to her own daughter.

When my husband and I were in San Francisco a few years ago and we entered in Margaret Keane’s gallery, I saw the most amazing enormous paintings of animals in the jungle. Her style had some similarity with that of Rousseau’s jungle scenes. I fell in love with one of the paintings depicting Cheetahs. At that time her asking price was $100,000.

I didn’t know the lady Margaret Keane until I met her during the exhibit of her latest paintings at the Phyllis Morris Originals showroom and talked to her. She was a totally different lady. In her 80’s, secure of herself, answering any questions I had. I loved her paintings of young gorgeous girls with exotic animals in a jungle so beautifully painted, that if the prices weren’t so high, I would have left with several of those paintings. What a difference her art and her life had become after leaving a man who sucked the blood of her body, was ruining her life and her art. A film to see and wonder.

P.S. What makes me feel sad is the fact that even today a lot of wonderful artists (Painters, writers, actors etc.) are not known simply because they don’t have that cunningness personality in them, and if they are not discovered by someone else their art has little chance to survive.