Last week saw the release of Gimme the Loot, the SXSW Grand Jury Prize winner by Adam Leon, which sees two graffiti artists seek revenge after their replica of the…
Beauty is Embarrassing is a film about the life and work of Wayne White. For those unfamiliar with White, his career as a cartoonist led to his involvement in the creation of the television show Pee Wee’s Playhouse, which in turn led to his designing some of the most iconic images in pop culture.
The film opens with a scrapbook of Wayne White’s better known achievements such as his animation work for Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight Tonight video. It then moves on to an introduction to his family life and snippets of his touring lecture. During this first 20 minutes, it seems that you’re introduced to Wayne White himself, everything he’s ever done and everyone he’s ever known, which makes things a little bit disjointed.
There are plenty of cool little narrative techniques used to tell this story, the stand out being a hyper-kinetic mash-up of White’s cartoon and puppetry underscoring his artistic burnout. But director Neil Berkeley knows why he wants to tell White’s story. It’s not just about his work or the way he did it. It’s not just about the amazing advent of creative control that accompanied the popular yet poor Pee Wee’s Playhouse. It’s White himself that makes the story worthwhile. His personality is summed up by Matt Groening as having a some Zack Galifianakis, some Snuffy Smith, and a little of the Unabomber. Even though it may not sound it, he is instantly likable ““ so much so that any issues with the film are easily overcome. He doesn’t want the audience to mull over every aspect of his work and hyper-analyze it. He wants to write profanity on a landscape for your enjoyment.
But Beauty is Embarrassing tells a bit more than it should. The story of how White met his wife is given more attention than it needs; their shared artistic endeavours serve the film better than how their early relationship formed, but it’s given a lot of screen time.
By the end of Beauty is Embarrassing, you will not only know who Wayne White is, you’ll be entertained. You’ll have that inspirational feeling that comes after watching a documentary born out of admiration. More importantly, you’ll laugh your ass off. And that is what White wants.
Beauty is Embarrassing is screening at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm. Check the festival website for details and tickets.