I’ve always found movies about artists to be very challenging for me to wrap my head around. Why? Because I don’t really know what art is (and I was a studio art major in college; yikes!). I know that a work of art is never completed, it is only ever “in-progress.” I know one man’s thoughtless doodle is another man’s framed masterpiece. I know there’s a difference between eroticism and porn, and sometimes I even notice it. But when I see documentaries about works of important art and such, most times it’s a “ok, you’re telling me this is important, those guys say it’s important, and that guy just spent over $2 million on it, so it MUST be important.” I guess I know what I like when I like it, but most often I’m just accepting that everyone else is the same way, and I don’t necessarily “get” what they like, but I respect that they like and if a big enough group says it’s important then, well, it must be important. To them at least. Still with me?
On the other hand, I don’t find documentaries or films about do-it-yourself’ers, in both attitude and follow-through, challenging to grasp at all. I fit myself firmly into that camp, as anyone who saw my “plumbing-pipe-covered-in-velcro mobile shoulder-webcam and laptop streaming video system” solution at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival can attest. DIY is, in my mind, all about seeing problems that everyone else shuts down on and pushing passed them by coming up with a real unique way of solving them that may or may not be what anyone considers smart, practical or pretty. I’m also impatient, and don’t like relying on other people for very much.
This brings us to the film “Beautiful Losers,” a documentary by Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard that details the working lives of a handful of DIY artists (painters, sculptors, filmmakers, musicians), their methodologies, anecdotes and friendships. The artists profiled in the film include Shepard Fairey, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills, Barry McGee, Jo Jackson, Chris Johanson, Harmony Korine, Stephen Powers, Geoff McFetridge, Thomas Campbell and Ed Templeton.
“Beautiful Losers” is particularly unique in that it falls in a documentary-experimental hybrid that I think is increasingly becoming the norm around the film world. While utilizing the typical talking head scenario, there is also included animations, music and other transitions that complement and exemplify the style of art and artist speaking on screen. In other words, the talking heads become art themselves, the artists the art and the art the artists and… f**k, my eyes have gone cross-eyed.
See, I don’t necessarily understand or “get” the things I saw, and my appreciation was no philosophically deeper than “that looks neat” or “that is funny” or “Harmony Korine just creeped out a bunch of children.” Not that it has to be, I just… again, a documentary was made about these artists, so they must be important. At the same time, I can’t just accept that something is important because a theater full of people clapped along for the film. But what about the idea that the artists were worthy of being documentary subjects? The act of documenting elevates the subjects above the norm. Act of film changing the objective reality… GET OUT OF MY HEAD!?!
In the end, “Beautiful Losers” is worth your time (or maybe it isn’t). The fact that this film can have my head spinning less about the art I saw onscreen and more about my own ideas of what makes art, do-it-yourself methodology and whether a true documentary can actually exist means I’m going to see this film again. And again. And likely again. See, I like thinking, like being challenged and I love films that can put me in that place. “Beautiful Losers” challenges and appreciates, is worthy and worthless; a piece of art in itself.