Friday, March 9, 2018

#2,487. Dark Side of Genius (1994)

Directed By: Phedon Papamichael

Starring: Brent David Fraser, Finola Hughes, Glenn Shadix

Tagline: "Creating an erotic masterpiece can be murder"

Trivia: Second directorial effort for noted cinematographer Phedon Papamichael

The story is established as the opening credits play: inside an artist’s studio, a topless blonde (Tina Cote) lays on a couch, posing for her portrait. Images of the girl slowly smoking a cigarette are interspersed with close-ups of paint being mixed on a palette, and the occasional brush touching canvas. 

There is no dialogue - the soundtrack features classical music - but before this tranquil scene of creativity is over we will bear witness to a shocking murder: the artist (his face concealed at all times) walks over to his model and puts one hand around her neck. There’s a quick shot of a cutting blade, a splash of blood, and the terrible deed is done. 

Thus begins director Phedon Papamichael’s Dark Side of Genius, a sedate but sexy 1994 mystery / thriller about art, love, and the fine line that separates brilliance from madness. 

Seven years pass. The artist, Julian Jons (Brent David Fraser), recently released from a psychiatric hospital, is once again painting, and is working closely with art dealer Leon Bennini (Glenn Shadix), who has managed to sell Julian’s latest creation to collector / businessman Samuel Rourke (Seymour Cassel). Critic Jennifer Cole (Finola Hughes) finds that she is also drawn to Julian’s work, and wants to interview him. Though it takes some time to track him down (Julian has become a recluse since re-entering the art world), Jennifer does eventually meet Julian, and sparks fly between the two. 

Both her roommate Carrie (Moon Unit Zappa) and her boss at the magazine (Patrick Bauchau) warn Jennifer not to get emotionally involved with the troubled Julian, who has yet to come to terms with his checkered past. But is Julian truly as dangerous as he once was, or is someone else now pulling his strings? 

Dark Side of Genius features a superb supporting cast: Moon Unit Zappa does a fine job as the film’s comic relief, bringing humor and a streetwise sensibility to Carrie, while the always-reliable Seymour Cassel keeps us guessing as to what his character’s true intentions might be (why has he taken such a keen interest in Julian’s work?). Equally as good are Patrick Richwood, portraying a jealous, self-absorbed contemporary of Julian’s; and Glenn Shadix, whose Bennini is a less-campy version of the character he played six years' earlier in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice

As for Brent David Fraser and Finola Hughes, they generate plenty of sexual tension as the leads, and there is a tangible chemistry between the two. Fraser’s performance is especially strong, and the actor perfectly conveys the fear and confusion brought on by the memories of his character’s previous actions. Yet along with the pain of his personal demons, Julian’s fractured recollections serve as his chief inspiration (each and every one of his paintings is a portrait of his victim). But while Julian is clearly haunted by his past, there is more to his story than meets the eye, and Dark Side of Genius manages to surprise us on occasion with a few well-plotted twists and turns. 

Though by no means a fast-paced thriller (director Papamichael takes his time building up the film’s artistic angle), Dark Side of Genius is engaging enough - and features the right amount of sexual energy - to keep your attention throughout.

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