From the opening seconds of Quills, it's obvious that this is not the work of the Philip Kaufman his fans had come to love. It moves with the feverish pace of quickened breathe. The film has a sense of humour so dark you need first to excavate, sift and polish it, and this becomes evident within seconds. It has the same perplexing mix of murky color palette and silky lighting that characterizes the work of Aleksandr Sokurov and the immediacy and the youthful mobility of something shot on digital. The faces have the same chiseled strangeness and fill the frame with the same aggression as those of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and Michael Powell before them. Some might call it a perverse experiment from a man who'd forgotten how to make the sturdy, contemplative genre exercise in favor of a style as garish as his subject, the Marquis De Sade. Another way of seeing it (and as I'm championing it, I'll call it the right way) is that Kaufman had conquered slow-burning eroticism and was after a thrill much more imperative. The camera feels rooted to the spot, like it had grown out of a tree, in much of the director's oeuvre. There's a preternatural stillness to his take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the camera and the man behind it apparently aware of something that eluded so many of his peers. And the camera moves with the confidence of a master fencing champion in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. There is a studied quality in his work that until Quills had never given way to the excesses of his frenzied subject matter. Despite having traveled from inhibited bedrooms to the very edge of space, he was ever a patient and forgiving spectator, letting us in on the secrets of people we could only dream of becoming, and that most of us were quite content only to fantasize about. With Quills, he took on the characteristics of his subject, he aligned himself stylistically with the man who sits at its core. Having come off his first major assignment that truly watches like one (Rising Sun) he was as aware of the barb of the critic and apparently sought to lash out in full force, giving the despotic artist the most sympathy despite tyrannical moods no less pointlessly vindictive than Napoleon's. Kaufman stomps as angrily as the Marquis, letting a cacophonous Stephen Warbeck score leave us little doubt as to who's suffering we're meant to empathize with. The public may not understand him and he may be a bit of a shit, but he's an artist and Kaufman knows a thing or two about people comparing his work to Pornography (he's seen the business end of an NC-17 rating in his day - Henry & June's reception still stinging as if they were the lashes endured by Kate Winslet's laundry maid). The marquis' tormentor and Priestly minder are over his shoulder forbidding his work from taking shape unencumbered (or at all). They're the producer and the critic, waiting on either side of the finished product with reasons why and why not. There's even a scene dictating the journey from idea to script to screen, with all the hands the words pass through, likening those who purport to understand and help the process to jabbering, inarticulate lunatics. And his final statement: when the words of artists are not allowed to reach the ears of the public, all hell will truly break loose. Kaufman punishes those who believe that his work would do so much harm as to warrant keeping it out of the reach of children - the words of the Marquis whip the maniacs into a murderous frenzy that sets about destroying many lives. He's ready with a response to this, as well, cruel though it may seem when he hear it. The bible is just as fanciful, the same passion and violence and filth broiling beneath the pious surface. No, there is no keeping art from the masses, try as you might, it will out.