You know a documentary is good if it inspires you to explore a new topic or idea once it’s over. For example, I know very little about modern art, but Brian Vincent’s Make Me Famous makes me want to dive deeper into its subject.
The documentary transports us back to 1980 and the art scene of New York’s East Village and profiles prolific artist Ed Brezinski. The poor man opened a dilapidated “studio” across the street from a men’s homeless shelter. Brezinski’s story is recounted by several of his contemporaries, including artists David McDermott, Peter McGough, Marguerite Van Cook, James Romberger, Duncan Hannah, Kenny Scharf, and actor Eric Bogosian.
Brezinski was famous for East Side Expressionism — where the art and portraits were fluid in technique, and the artist’s emotion was expressed through each brushstroke. He also was the very definition of the “starving” artist for much of his career. Unfortunately, while his peers saw the brilliance of his work, Brezinski did not have the business mindset to become financially successful.
“…the artist’s emotion was expressed through each brushstroke.”
Brezinski took pride as an artist who rebuffed the trappings of commercial success while wishing he would one day be trapped. Make Me Famous opens with the time he attended the art showing of conceptual artist Robert Gober, whose artwork consisted of realistic recreations of everyday objects, which, in this case, was simply a bag of donuts. Brezinski was so offended by this “art” that he ate one of the donuts in protest, only finding out it was coated with a toxic resin.
Continuing on the theme of the poor artist, Brezinski’s rundown gallery was called the Magic Gallery. It exemplified the 1980s counter-culture Bohemian movement. Unfortunately, these counter-culture attitudes (and his alcoholism) kept him from reaching the same great heights as his contemporaries, most notably Jean-Michel Basquiat. It was through his reckless behavior, Brezinski began making more rivals than allies.
As the ’80s rolled on, tastes in art changed, and AIDS began ripping through New York’s gay community, which he was a part of, Brezenski would become somewhat lost in life and ultimately meet a tragic end. Oddly enough, Brezinski’s “death” occurs at the halfway point of the documentary. Odd because there is still a question as to whether Brezenski passed away. Much of the second half is the search for Brezinski or his body.
Yes, Make Me Famous highlights the life and work of a brilliant artist, and just for that, the documentary is worth watching. The film also vividly describes what life as an artist was like on the Lower East Side of New York. First, you’ll get the sense of the thrill it was to be a struggling artist, and then you’ll get a real sense of the struggle. There’s also a lengthy discussion of the business and economics of art and how Brezinski lives out the old cliché of how the value of one’s artwork skyrockets once they pass. Maybe Brezinski is finally living a life of luxury on a deserted island somewhere.
Make Me Famous screened at the 2021 NewFest.
Header Image: Copyright Jonathan Postal
Poster Image: Copyright Edward Brezinski
"…the sense of the thrill it was to be a struggling artist, and then you'll get a real sense of the struggle."