Warning: Spoilers ahead. It sounds mysterious and dangerously alluring, doesn’t it? Velvet Buzzsaw. Say it out loud and there’s at least a 64.29 percent chance you’ll feel a little bit cooler and more badass. But what, exactly, does it mean in the context of it being the title of Dan Gilroy’s latest film? The artsy-fartsy horror thriller is fairly well-named with a title like Velvet Buzzsaw, but the meaning may not be readily apparent — or even even discernible at all. Allow us to explain, but be warned: there’s some NSFW language coming your way soon.
Art is a beautiful, complicated, inspiring thing, which means it is very easy to exploit for profit. That’s essentially the story at the heart of the film: if you’re not careful, the greed of the art world will kill you, and your art, all for other people’s gains. It’s why pretty much everyone in the movie dies at the end, including our beloved art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the rest of the equally-as-absurdly named cast of characters: gallerist Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), her assistant Josephina who found the art (Zawe Ashton), competing gallerist Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge), and snooty buyer Gretchen (Toni Collette).
In Velvet Buzzsaw, art and commerce are in a sort of symbiotic-but-toxic relationship, feeding off one another and creating a corrupt look at how the systems of the art world interact. In that way, you could look at the title as a sort of ekphrastic spin on what the art world truly is: something soft and alluring that could take your life if you’re not careful. But it has more meanings beyond that.
In the Urban Dictionary sense, the term is regularly used as slang for vaginas (because of course it is), as well as a type of cunnilingus that sounds particularly comedic to consider, logistically speaking. (I'm not going to explain that one, just Google it yourself.)
I mention that last one because it feels tonally in-line with why someone like Rhodora would name her old punk band Velvet Buzzsaw. Before her bandmate tragically died, Rhodora was convinced they were destined for rock god greatness: she even got their logo tattooed on her shoulder, a nice bit of art to commemorate that time in her life. Only, as the film goes on to show us, Rhodora was driven by greed, not creation, and her greedy way of looking at art is exactly why it is so fitting that she’s killed by the ink on her neck at the end.
Art collection is a velvet buzzsaw: you think you’re merely buying a bit of beauty, but what you’ve actually done is enable a bunch of schemers to get rich off manipulating systems, events, and buyer’s collections to continue to do the same, driving up the price of art, and essentially killing its soul.
When you look at it like that: can you really blame the art for fighting back?