A Long Wild Ride – A film review of ‘Beauty is Embarrassing’

Beauty is Embarrassing

It is not often thought that beauty can be embarrassing. Beauty, to most people is the exact opposite of embarrassing, and if we are talking about the art world, beauty, is the advocated standard where aesthetic perfection is celebrated above all else. The concept that beauty can be embarrassing is a bold statement, but when you break it down like Wayne White does, it makes total sense. Wayne hypothesizes that beauty, so rarely encountered, is powerful enough to send us into a state of vulnerability where we feel unworthy to be in its presence. And that, he explains in Neil Berkeley’s documentary, is embarrassing.

Chronicling Wayne White’s personal and career life, Beauty is Embarrassing takes an in depth look at the artist’s influential early childhood years, his commercially successful time as designer and puppeteer on the set of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the culmination of his methodology in his present day success as a master typographist and fine artist who has come full circle. First time director Berkeley, who formed a friendship with White in 2001, spent two years devoted to the project, traveling across the US from New York to Los Angeles, collecting over 300 hours of footage that forms the entertaining tapestry of White’s rich story. Fresh behind the scenes video of Pee Wee’s Playhouse is fused with the divulging interviews of art world aficionado’s such as Cliff Benjamin, Todd Oldham and David Pagel. Beautiful animation sequences produced by BRKLY (the filmmaker’s own company) pinpoint the artist’s prominent life moments, and form a kinship with White’s pop, fun-quirky style.

Fun being the operative word here, as the ulterior focus of the documentary, told though White’s on the road lectures, focuses on his self-proclaimed career mission to openly cultivate the humorous side of fine art which is known all too well as the domain of the serious and the cautious. Beauty is Embarrassing creates a portrait of a man whose natural demeanor is wildly magnetic and who’s work is able to transcend the notion of the artist as untouchable. Art is subjective, and so White’s oeuvre may not be your thing, but the story behind this classically trained, creative thinker is deeply inspirational. He is a painter, sculptor, cartoonist, puppeteer, set designer, art director, animator, and illustrator who imparts a genuine passion for following your dreams to audiences across his lecture tour as well as people involved in his daily life, and those touched by connection in the arts community.

Premiering at SXSW 2012, the film has lived on to play in countless other festivals, such as Hot Doc’s, Full Frame, Atlanta Film Festival, and IFFBoston. Distribution of the film is slated for early September, but there is no need to wait that long. Beauty is Embarrassing will come home to LA tonight to screen as part of the Los Angles Film Festival at the Bing Theater at LACMA. You can also support the DIY effort to distribute this film for theatrical release through Kickstarter.

It’s a wild ride. Enjoy it.

June 21, 2012 / By