Film Review – Beauty Is Embarrassing

Beauty Is Embarrassing

Directed by: Neil Berkeley

Starring: Wayne White, Mark Mothersbaugh

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

How far does one go in their search for artistic fulfillment? Remember Natalie Portman’s nightmarish trip into Crazy Town in Darren Aronofsky’s fictional Black Swan? Yeesh. While Beauty Is Embarrassing looks at the lengths one goes to for their art and their undeniable need to create –  artist Wayne White’s journey is, thankfully, a much more pleasant one. There are no angsty sexual awakenings between female ballerinas here.

Wait come back, it’s still a fascinating documentary.

Wayne was a typical artist-to-be when as a child he was always found with a pencil in hand and a piece of paper covered in drawings. He moved from his small town in Tennessee to the Big Apple to pursue a career in the arts but was finding no luck – except in the romance department. He met his artist wife who was gainfully employed and earning all the dough. Wayne was not. That is, until he got a job creating the loopy characters for the first few DIY episodes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

The zero budget program filmed in a location that wasn’t suitable for a television show became a cult hit and the production moved to Los Angeles with a bigger budget. But when star Paul Reubens called it quits, White flitted from pay cheque job to pay cheque job, none of which shared the success nor the freedom to create. Pee Wee’s Playhouse got him a couple of Emmys but without artistic satisfaction, what was the point?

The way he has dealt with is artistic energy has morphed throughout the years, from parading an over-sized head around town to creating puppets that are more like sculptures. His strangest and latest achievement was borne out of a throw away idea – he was to smash out a K-Mart print to use the frame but decided to paint words onto the scenery. Prompting the question “what is art?” – his word paintings were at first ignored by art snobs, but later embraced.

But none of this journey would be half as interesting or entertaining without the fun and honest interviews with White, his family, colleagues and friends. White is a kooky, down to earth, gentle, funny fellow and he has surrounded himself with similar people his whole life. Asking “what is art?” has been done to death and even those who have never been in an art gallery know that it is in the eye of the beholder. But director Neil Berkley gives it fresh treatment by looking at it from White’s experiences. While Portman’s character Nina finally found her artistic fulfillment, then promptly dropped dead because of it (what a downer), White still searches  for his and inspires us to do the same.

Beauty Is Embarrassing is screening as part of Revelation Perth International Film Festival on July 6 and 14.

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