Netflix UK film review: Art and Craft
The gap between9
Ivan Radford | On 19, Jul 2015
Directors: Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, Mark Becker
Cast: Mark Landis
Watch Art and Craft online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Dogwoof.tv
What is art? It’s a question that’s been asked time and time again. What is forgery? That one’s a little easier. Everyone knows what forgery is. Until, that is, you see Art and Craft.
The documentary, released straight to VOD in the UK through Dogwoof’s innovative IF365 initiative, follows the strange-but-true tale of Mark Landis, a guy who spends his life making copies of existing artwork and passing them off as the originals. There are dozens of galleries and museums up and down the USA with his work – or, to be exact, other people’s work – on display.
So when University of Cincinnati employee Matthew Leininger twigs that they have the same painting as somewhere else, he tries to out Landis. The only problem? Mark hasn’t technically committed a crime: he’s been donating all of his pictures. He’s deceived people, yes, but not defrauded them.
It’s a curious loophole, which could easily be the subject of the entire film. Indeed, a decent chunk of the 90-minute runtime follows Matthew’s one-man campaign to unmask Landis as the serial conman – a quest that, in a twist of cruel irony, costs him his job at the university museum.
But directors Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker are aware that they’ve got something more interesting than a real-life Catch Me If You Can, or a low-key Thomas Crown Affair: they’ve got Mark Landis himself. Rather than debate the code of the law, they focus on the character (not) breaking it. And make no mistake: Mark Landis is an incredible character.
He cuts a strange figure from the moment you see him: alert yet blank, confident yet shy. Over the course of the film, he emerges as a person full of intriguing juxtapositions. He is a prolific and talented painter, but does not create anything original. He lies compulsively, dressing up at one point as priest to fool a mark, but happily reconciles his behaviour with religion. “Where would the church be if St. Peter hadn’t lied?” he argues, with a superior smile.
But there is something not quite right about him, from doting on his deceased mother to his urge to keep copying other people’s work. There are hints of troubles under the surface: he is tickled pink to see coverage of him in a magazine, while the camera skims over the article to pick out words like “schizophrenia”. “I didn’t read it closely,” he tells us. You suspect he’s not telling the truth.
The way he speaks is part of this fascinating jumble of oddness: he drawls with a soft, high-pitched voice, somewhere between Truman Capote and Peter Lorre. Constant close-ups of the artworks and his process of creating them (flat-pack frames from supermarkets and colouring pencils) are edited together with the arresting flow of a curator hanging a gallery, but the directors’ decision to leave Landis to do the talking is the best tool in their pencil case – one that, as he awkwardly meets his victims at a special art show, paints an absorbing, complex portrayal of an ambiguous figure. Is he an artist? A criminal? Whatever the answer, this piece of compelling art is undoubtedly the genuine article.
Art and Craft is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I buy or rent Art and Craft online in the UK?