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Saturday, December 6, 2014

BIG EYES


By D.E.Levine

A couple of years ago I was in San Francisco and I wandered into a gallery selling paintings and prints with "big eyes".  This wasn't a new concept, but it had been a famous case in the papers a long time ago when an artist named Margaret Keane proved that her husband, Walter Keane, had been taking credit for her paintings for years.  Along the way, he became quite famous but will probably best be remembered for the immense fraud he carried out.

The elderly woman I spoke with at the gallery was charming but never mentioned that she was Margaret Keane.  Only when I saw the movie Big Eyes, and there she was sitting on a park bench, did I realize the woman's identity.

When she took her daughter and left her husband for San Francisco in the 1950s, Margaret Keane was leaving an unhappy relationship where she felt unfulfilled.  Supporting herself by painting designs on furniture, she painted did charcoal portraits in the park on weekends and continued to paint waif like children with big eyes.

Meeting and marrying Walter Keane, she became an abused wife cut off from friends while he took credit for her paintings and the paintings gained popularity and became highly sought after.  She married him thinking that he was a struggling painter who moonlighted in real estate to pay the bills. It wasn't until years later that she learned he hadn't painted any of the pictures he claimed as his own.

Once again leaving a bad marriage and taking her daughter with her, she fled to Hawaii where she found strength in religion and courageously challenged Walter in court to get recognition and monies owed for her many years of paintings.  She won the case but never collected the money from him as he died penniless, never admitting that he perpetrated a fraud on the public.

Amy Adams is superb as Margaret Keane and Christophe Waltz is equally fine as Walter. Their performances are what we expect.  Perhaps the greatest surprise is that the film was directed by Tim Burton and it's nothing like his imaginative flights into fantasy that he's given us in other films.  Of course, this story is truly bizarre in it's own right, so much so that it's hard to believe, but historical reference proves it did occur.

Burton does a wonderful job of directing the actors and achieving intimate and believable performances.