23 June, 2011

23 June - Guest of Cindy Sherman

I finally watched Guest of Cindy Sherman, the documentary co-directed by Paul Hasegawa-Overacker, aka Paul H-O. Paul begins with the fabulous and ghetto public access program "Gallery Beat," in which he and co-producer of the film Tom Donahue bust into galleries throughout New York and force their way into the faces of some of the art elite of the early 90's including Julian Schnabel (who hates them and comes off as an odious narcissist in the film), Spencer Tunic (then an unknown artist, Paul records the show in the buff), Tracy Emin (she is so unknown at the time he forgets her name), Ross Bleckner (who mocks public access TV). The list goes on and on and on.

Eventually, Paul finds his way to the already iconic photographer Cindy Sherman. The chemistry is immediate and Paul is permitted rare and intimate access to record Cindy's world. What ensues is an insider glimpse of the glamor, treachery, and mercurial nature of the art world from the late '80's through five excruciating years of Paul's unraveling from being Cindy Sherman's boyfriend, downgraded to "Guest of Cindy Sherman," then ultimately to becoming "Ex of Cindy Sherman."

The documentary is as painful as it is intoxicating, reality TV at its best. As Joy Press of Salon.com describes "We get a sidelong view of the art world and its symbiotic relationship with commerce and celebrity, as well as an exploration of the awkward life of a famous person's "plus one." We also get an incredibly rare look at Cindy Sherman the person, the fledgling surfer, the "Florence Nightingale" of girlfriends. Risë Keller of Movie Habit wrote an insightful review of the film, describing that "because the graceless Paul H-O features so prominently in it, I kept fearing the film would lapse into something clumsy, something that would make me want to stop watching the film before it was over. But the narrative surprised me at those moments by pulling back from his particular brink of clutziness, and the story about this odd couple kept me on edge. Other tensions kept pulling me in, too: the tension between the sunny, pert faces of the “real” Cindy Sherman and the desperation in her portraits, and the class tensions that course through most scenes. "

One of the most compelling, and optimistic, aspects of the documentary in my opinion was the message (delivered as Paul's lament) that authenticity can transcend the bullshit of the art world. Paul was having a blast as a subversive ex-artist documenting (and snidely judging) the art world through the lens of Art Beat. It worked for him. As Cindy Sherman's boyfriend, he begins to resent how hard he has to work in contrast to the ease with which Cindy breezes through the art world. Why? I venture authenticity. What shines through in this film is Sherman's conviction and a drive. Her singular voice in a cacophony of art world sycophants that transcends its superficiality and fickle whims. Sherman makes art her way - has even attempted (unsuccessfully due to her success) to make unsalable art. For that very conviction, she is exactly who she is. And as the movie poster illustrates, Paul finds himself lost in the shadow of Sherman's spotlight.

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