Saturday, 29 September 2012


Wayne White is the definition of COOL. This movie is about him. See it!
Beauty is Embarrassing
(2012) ****

dir. Neil Berkeley

Wayne White,
Mimi Ponds,
Paul Reubens,
Mark Mothersbaugh,
Matt Groening

Review By
Greg Klymkiw

David O. Selznick, the greatest film producer of all time, crafted a huge body of tremendous work, but he always feared that after his death, he'd only be remembered as the man who produced Gone With The Wind. (Not really too bad a deal, Mr. Selznick.)

In any event, it seems to me that the contemporary American artist Wayne White might have shared a similarly obsessive career lamentation. You see, in spite of all his achievements as an artist, would his epitaph, in Selznick-like fashion ultimately emphasize that he was one of the primary creators and designers of Pee Wee's Playhouse and most notably, for me anyway, that he was the brainchild of my favourite Playhouse character, "Randy the Bully"?

Well, for my money, I watched Pee Wee's Playhouse every Saturday morning for several years as an adult (albeit as a purported grown-up with a major case of arrested development) and if this had been Wayne White's sole contribution to humanity, I'd have been delighted to doff my cap to him with a hearty, "Great job, champion fellow!"

Thankfully, a wonderful new movie now exists that dives headlong into the myriad of artworks White has created and continues to create. In Beauty is Embarrassing, we are exposed to this mad genius in all his glory - or rather, glories. Like some perverse cross-pollinated spawn of Georges Melies, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Don Rickles, Henry Rollins, Spalding Gray, depression-era Ashkenazy junk collectors on the streets of Montreal (a la Ted Allan's "Lies My Father Told Me"), Guy Maddin ('natch), Drew Friedman and, lest we forget, that talented young banjo-picker in Deliverance, Wayne White has created an astounding body of work that is uniquely personal and provides an indelible portrait of an America laced with satire, laugh-out-loud funny humour and pure, unadulterated passion and imagination.

It's astounding to think that in the same year, Berkeley's portrait of White is unleashed upon the world along with the phenomenal Norwegian Pushwagner by August B. Hanssen and Even Benestadso - two films that are so geographically and culturally apart and yet, successfully deliver experiences that have the same goal - to joyously and delightfully celebrate art. Beauty is Embarrassing is one of the most entertaining and inspirational documentary portraits of an artist's process I've ever seen. So is Pushwagner. At some point, a double bill of these extraordinary works seems to be in order. This I assure you would deliver a cinematic fine art wet dream of staggering proportions.

Then again, why not just add Peter Watkins's epic Edvard Munch, Paul Cox's remarkable Vincent, Nik Sheehan's superbly crafted The Drawing Master, Ken Russell's clinically insane Savage Messiah and Guy Maddin's Odilon Redon or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon to the programme and you've got yourself a veritable electric Kool-Aid acid test of fine art on film.

A great deal of the credit for Beauty is Embarrassing's success must go to the extraordinary life, career and personality of its subject, Wayne White, a country boy raised in the great state of Tennessee who made the decision to take his talents to New York and then Los Angeles. Some might do so and "never look back", but White always looked back for inspiration and it's this strong sense of place, of memory, of reverence for who he is and where he's from which makes his work so rich.

Seen in archival footage - mostly home movies on film and videotape, and in interviews and live appearances, Wayne White is just so damn cool that it's impossible to take your eyes off the proceedings. He's the real thing with no airs and no pretensions. In fact, as a human being and artist, his cool quotient is only matched, and in fact, enhanced by his vast output as a designer, sculptor and painter during a period of over thirty years - art that the picture expertly details and wends through the narrative.

Now, much as I'm extolling the virtues of the film's subject, someone had to choose Wayne White to make a movie about, then shoot and conduct interviews so well that it inspired White to deliver a seemingly endless series of funny, insightful and touching responses.

Furthermore, someone had to assemble a fabulous cast of characters in White's life - from family to friends to colleagues - all of whom are so cool (especially White's Mom and Dad) that it must have been a nightmare going through the footage in the edit suite and deciding how much great stuff had to be turfed. After all, creating tight, compelling pictures that are going to have an important life - long after they've first been unleashed upon the world - is ultimately ALL about tossing fabulous material aside in service of the greater good.

Director Neil Berkeley and his team might be luckier than any of us on the end-user side in terms of all the time they spent with Smith and the other interviewees whilst shooting and cutting, but at the end of the day, they served up a cornucopia of delectable goods for our edification.

(I do, however, DEMAND that a Blu-Ray release include extended interviews, deleted scenes and, while we're stomping our tootsies, a hi-def photo gallery of White's art.)

Luckily for us, the audience, our feedbags are full of only the choicest of morsels. While we can envy the buffet table the filmmakers no doubt gorged themselves upon, we can ultimately thank them for their sacrifice to gluttony.

It allows us to dine, ever-so gracefully upon a Wayne White who is as passionately and meticulously crafted by the filmmakers for cinematic consumption as he, in turn, passionately and meticulously creates his art.

This movie is such a treat that I defy anyone to not be riveted throughout. Marvelling at this artist's great work, experiencing the ups and downs of his life, meeting all those who have been special to him and finally, in the movie's last few minutes, to have one's breath taken away by a sequence so joyous that you'll be squirting tears-a-plenty - these are but a few of the picture's considerable virtues.

Wayne White's art is bigger than life, but through the eyes of director Neil Berkeley, we see how White's approach to his own work is both humble and honest - kind of like Berkeley's approach to his subject.

A wise choice.

Too many filmmakers might have imposed overt stylistic flourishes to such pieces - the result of which, if done here, would have been overwhelming to a point of distraction. The film lets the artist (and his art) speak for himself (with a little help, of course, from his friends).

Euphoria is ultimately what comes to mind when recalling the effect the film has upon you. And that, cool cats, that is what they call style!

"Beauty is Embarrassing" is in nationwide release via KinoSmith. In Toronto it's playing at the Bloor Hot Docs Theatre. You should also visit Wayne White's website. It has lotsa cool shit on it. Some of it you can even buy! Click HERE