Basel Preview

Lindsay Lohan Short Film By Richard Phillips Premieres at Art Basel

The ubiquitous actress is the subject of a new short film, ‘First Point,’ which premieres at Art Basel this week. Isabel Wilkinson talks to artist Richard Phillips, who directed the film.

Richard Phillips Studio

It’s been a year of ups and downs for Lindsay Lohan. She finally was freed from probation for her 2007 drunk-driving arrests, came “clean and sober” with Matt Lauer on Today, attempted a mini-resurrection on Saturday Night Live, and then totaled a Porsche.

It’s funny, then, that she’d be headlining Art Unlimited during Art Basel, the four-day mecca for collectors and art lovers in Switzerland. Lohan stars in a new short film, First Point, by the popular contemporary artist Richard Phillips, which premiered there Monday night and will debut in New York during the artist’s solo show at the Gagosian Gallery on Sept. 15.

This film is the second installment of Phillips and Lohan’s collaboration: the actress appeared first in a two-minute film directed by the artist last summer. In it, she stares out at an empty Malibu beach, plunges into an infinity pool, and lies listlessly in the sun. It was what the artist called a “motion portrait” of a young woman at a transitional moment in her life, told through a series of scenes so beautifully curated that they looked like mini-paintings. Shortly after it premiered, it caused a mini-explosion on the Internet.

First Point takes Lohan one step further, now placing her in the center of a visually rich mini-narrative, in which she occupies a more developed character than in the original film. According to the artist, it was Lohan’s own suggestion that they leave their perch at a private Malibu mansion and film on its most popular (and very crowded) public beach, Surf Rider.

One shot follows Lohan as she is swarmed by real paparazzi. “When Lindsay goes to the beach,” he says, “It’s an entirely different situation than practically anyone else. There is a dawn-of-the-dead type reality where paparazzi start showing up.” There’s a rare moment in the film when Phillips captures these unwitting paparazzi as they try to capture Lohan. This is the kind of thing that the artist loves: turning forms of mediated culture on top of themselves, and distorting the viewer’s perception of what’s real and imagined.

The resulting film, which will only be released online in a series of 30-second trailers, has a “daymare into nightmare” quality to it, which makes it simultaneously beautiful and deeply frightening. Phillips’s influences are diverse: there are hints of Brigitte Bardot in Contempt as Lohan spreads out on the sand like a 1950s pinup; David Lynch’s abstract 1990s L.A.-noir films inspired a few haunting nocturnal scenes; and Phillips and his co-director, Taylor Steele, also cited underground surf films of the 1960s such as Free and Easy.

From the minute the film begins, there’s an insidious feeling that something is about to happen: a seagull circles the beach, a photographer descends, Lohan turns around, surfboard in hand, in shock. Yet nothing ever does. The film’s eerie music, which is an original score by Thomas Bangalter, follows the star from her perch on the sand into the water, where she tears through waves on a surfboard. (For this, Phillips recruited Kassia Meador, one of the top female surfers in the world, to act as her body double.)

Though Phillips insists Lohan wasn’t his “muse” in the traditional sense of the word, there exists a clear compatibility between artist and protagonist. Phillips, an artist working in the vein of pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann, is a painter of celebrities, and has long been fascinated by the challenge of portraying our modern icons as works of art. Lohan, simultaneously, has become an icon on her own. Her face is synonymous with something else, and its ubiquity in magazines and on the Web makes it practically wallpaper in our everyday lives. Now, she’s primed to portray another legend—Elizabeth Taylor, in Liz & Dick, an upcoming Lifetime biopic. Yet unlike Liz, Phillips says, Lohan “is not a passive participant in art. She thinks about art and is involved in it.”

There is, of course, a natural challenge in presenting the sometimes-skeptical world of art critics with a film that stars a face as ubiquitous (and polarizing) as Lohan’s. People will question, Phillips says, whether or not this is art. But, he laughs, “When you think about Dada and the great moments in Modern Art, it’s always the sense of when you’re not sure that art is most likely to be occurring.”