Art History feels like a companion piece to Swanberg’s similarly themed The Zone in the way it zeroes in on the conversations and behaviours that occur around shooting sex scenes. This one is more thickly veiled though, as Swanberg and his actors seem to be playing actual characters rather than themselves, therefore it is nowhere near as uncomfortable, directly confessional and confrontational as The Zone but a lot of the points remain sharpened for visceral impact.
The way Swanberg relies on masters to create a sense of intimate surveillance lends the experience of watching it a feeling of voyeuristic intrusion. The eerie stillness makes it feel like a horror film. There’s a deft use of digital formats to help you navigate where you are, what reality you are in – scenes from the film they are shooting look one way, scenes outside of that look another – and a lot of the low-light DSLR photography is genuinely beautiful. When I think of Art History it is defined by those night exteriors in the pool. Certainly a film with a mood, look and toxicity individual to itself in Swanberg’s back catalogue which, considering the vastness of his body of work, is saying something.