Short Cuts: ‘Beautiful Losers’ chronicles brilliant ragtag collective“Short Cuts” are expedient, pretension-free movie reviews. This installment tackles Aaron Rose’s documentary “Beautiful Losers,” which takes a look at the group of artists responsible for such iconic imagery as the Obama “Hope” poster and films like “Thumbsucker” and “Gummo.”
WHAT IT IS: A look back at the mid-’90s heyday of Aaron Rose’s Alleged Arts Gallery in New York City and the artists who frequented his DIY art space. As chronicled in “Beautiful Losers,” some of them went on to produce pieces for much bigger audiences: Shepard Fairey founded Obey and created the iconic Obama “Hope” poster; Ed Templeton became a well-known pro skater; Harmony Korine wrote the controversial film “Kids” (and directed the equally unnerving “Gummo”); and Mike Mills, in addition to creating some of the most imaginative commercials for some of the biggest corporations on the planet, directed the indie quirkfest “Thumbsucker” and designed album covers for musicians like Beck, Air, Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys. Rose’s documentary also traces the evolution of the reunion art show from which the film gets its name.
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: As my Magic 8-Ball used to tell me all the time, “Reply hazy, try again later.” Don’t get me wrong; “Beautiful Losers” was informative to the Nth degree, but … that’s just it: At times it felt like I was back in my freshman UMD art class being forced to learn. (Dreadful, I know….) This is completely understandable, though, as the documentary itself is a dry artform. I was just hoping that Rose, ringleader of the creative-as-they-come Alleged collective, would be able transcend the genre’s limitations with this one. While he spices up the point-and-shoot interview format with external visuals as much as possible, “Beautiful Losers” really doesn’t come alive until the third act. This is where we see where the artists involved have landed — from Mike Mills, who is seemingly on top of the world (having some of TV land’s most iconic advertisements under his belt), all the way down to Jo Jackson, who now resides in Portland and is seen crafting the most eyeroll-inducing protest piece in ages. In a nutshell, the story of the collective’s origins, while astonishing, kind of makes for ho-hum storytelling unless you’re that into any of the artists involved. My advice: Skip past the early years and concentrate on the bits about why the artists make the art they do. They are this DVD’s bread and butter.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Wait for some local hippie enclave to host a screening and watch it with its members, some of whom are hopefully artists who aren’t afraid to speak what’s on their mind. What “Beautiful Losers” lacks in the repeat viewings department — outside of Money Mark’s memorable score, that is — it certainly makes up with insightful nuggets of wisdom about the creative process and choice debate points. For instance, Is it better to create your ultimate vision and, in turn, starve to death (because more than likely you won’t be appreciated in your own time … if ever) or take elements from said vision and incorporate them into a viable commodity in order to make an honest living?
Find out more information about this documentary and the artists involved at www.beautifullosers.com.
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