High Art

High Art is a 1998 Canadian-American independent film directed by Lisa Cholodenko and starring Ally Sheedy and Radha Mitchell.

High Art
Promotional film poster
Directed byLisa Cholodenko
Produced byAntidote Films
Jeff Levy-Hinte,
Susan Stover,
Dolly Hall
Written byLisa Cholodenko
Distributed byOctober Films
Release date
  • June 12, 1998 (1998-06-12) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,929,168 (US)


Sydney (or simply "Syd"), age 24, is a woman who has her whole life mapped out in front of her. Living with longtime boyfriend James, and working her way up at the respected high-art photography magazine Frame, Syd has desires and frustrations that seem typical and manageable. But when a crack in her ceiling springs a leak and Syd finds herself knocking on the door of her upstairs neighbor, a chance meeting suddenly takes her on a new path.

Opening the door to an uncharted world for Syd is Lucy Berliner, a renowned photographer, enchanting, elusive, and curiously retired. Now 40, Lucy lives with her once glamorous, heroin-addicted German girlfriend Greta, and plays host to a collection of hard-living party kids. Syd is fascinated by Lucy and becomes drawn into the center of Lucy's strangely alluring life upstairs.

Syd mentions Lucy to her bosses (without realising that she is famous) but they remain uninterested until they realise exactly who Lucy is. At a lunch, Lucy agrees to work for the magazine as long as Syd is her editor. Soon a working relationship develops between the two and a project is underway which promises a second chance for Lucy's career. But as Syd and Lucy's collaboration draws them closer together, their working relationship turns sexual and the lines between love and professionalism suddenly blur. As Syd slowly discovers the darker truths of Lucy's life on the edge, she is forced to confront her own hunger for recognition and the uncertain rewards of public esteem.

Cast and crew



Soundtrack by Shudder to Think


Noted film critic Roger Ebert wrote:

Syd has just been made an associate editor of a New York photo magazine--the kind with big pages, where you have to read the small print to tell the features from the ads. She goes upstairs because there's a leak coming through the ceiling, and walks into the sad, closed, claustrophobic life of the heroin users.

And now here is my point: Those people really seem to be living there. They suggest a past, a present, a history, a pattern, that has been going on for years. Their apartment, and how they live in it, is as convincing as a documentary could make it.

In other words, they aren't "characters." They don't feel like actors waiting for the camera to roll. And by giving them texture and complexity, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko has the key to her whole movie.

High Art is masterful in the little details. It knows how these people might talk, how they might respond. It knows that Lucy, Greta and the almost otherworldly Arnie might use heroin and then play Scrabble. It is so boring, being high in an empty life. The movie knows how career ambition and office politics can work together to motivate Syd: She wants Lucy to get the job because she's falling for Lucy, but also because she knows Lucy is her ticket to a promotion at the magazine ...

High Art is so perceptive and mature it makes similar films seem flippant. The performances are on just the right note, scene after scene, for what needs to be done ...

And the ending does not cheat. Just the opposite.[1]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 73%, based on 45 reviews, and an average rating of 6.8/10.[2]

IndieWire listed it as #7 of "The 15 Greatest Lesbian Movies of All Time."[3] Autostraddle listed it as #31 of "100 Best Lesbian Movies Of All Time" in 2015.[4]

Production notes

The photography by Lucy Berliner (Sheedy) was based on Nan Goldin's work. The photographs themselves were made by Jojo Whilden.[5]

See also


  1. Ebert, Roger (3 July 1998). "High Art". RogerEbert.com. Chicago Sun-Times.
  2. "High Art (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  3. Dry, Jude (May 8, 2017). "15 Greatest Lesbian Movies of All Time". IndieWire. Penske Business Media. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  4. "The 100 Best Lesbian Movies Of All Time". Autostraddle. August 11, 2015. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  5. "Cold Dish of Careerism". Metroactive Movies. 1998-06-18. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
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