Friday, November 2, 2012


Beauty is Embarrassing relays the weird, wonderful, and true story of Wayne White, a multidisciplinary artist whose chief goal is to inject strong doses of humor into the art scene.  Exuberant and profane, White is best known for his puppet designs (and puppetry) for Pee Wee's Playhouse, as well as the music videos he made for Peter Gabriel ("Big Time") and Smashing Pumpkins ("Tonight, Tonight").  But the documentary also chronicles White's return to the world of painting, where he's become a bit of an overnight success with his word paintings, campy thrift store paintings re-contextualized by the bold and absurd statements ("Eastern Fuckit" and "Here Comes Mr. Know-It-All," for instance) that White paints on top of the original image.

Displaying a naked vulnerability for the cameras, White is certainly willing to perform, quite entertainingly at times, for director Neil Berkeley (The Cool School), but there are also plenty of unguarded moments as the artist discusses his upbringing, success, and the eventual burnout/breakdown that set in during his tenure in Hollywood.  Ol' Pee Wee himself (Paul Reubens), Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh (who composed the music for Pee Wee's Playhouse), Matt Groening and a series of art critics show up to discuss White's work, but it's Wayne's wife, Mimi Pond (a cartoonist and writer--she wrote early episodes of The Simpsons), his parents, and his old friends who best convey the true beauty and restless energy that characterize both the man and his unbridled creative output.

This is a blindingly brilliant film, one that feels like it's tapped directly into the source of White's boundless forward drive.  Berkeley has orchestrated an intimate and engaging portrait of a courageous soul who creates because he has no choice and knows no other way to exist.  Beauty is Embarrassing thrills as much as it inspires, even those who are prolific in their chosen fields will walk away feeling like they could up their game after seeing Wayne White in action.  Like the man it portrays, this film kicks serious ass.

Highly recommended.

Beauty is Embarrassing screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Friday, November 2nd at 7:30pm, Saturday, November 3rd at 7pm & 9pm, Sunday, November 4th at 4:45 & 7pm, and Monday, November 5th at 7:30pm.  Wayne White will be in attendance for the Friday night show.  More info available here.

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