Oscilloscope // 2008 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // December 24th, 2009
Celebrating One of the Most Influential Cultural Moments of a Generation...Really?
Artists get their inspiration from many places: their own imagination; the influence of others, including peers and past masters; a kind of cosmic agreement with the aesthetic universe; pure grit and determination. And then there are those circumstances where like minded individuals come together, driven by what they perceive as a shared passion. Within said creative communes, sparks can and do fly. In the case of one unique collective, it was a pure DIY spirit that drove their desire to paint, to sculpt, and to perform. Known as "street art," it was as reflective of their mutual interests (skateboarding, graffiti, urban music) as it was each person's sensibility and perspective. In the new documentary on the subject, these "Beautiful Losers" get the opportunity to speak for themselves, to explain their motivations and their goals, what drives them and what continues to encourage this outsider brand of beauty.
The subjects on display are as diverse as Thomas Campbell, Shepard Fairey (perhaps best known for his 'Hope' poster for then Presidential candidate Barack Obama), filmmaker Harmony Korine (Gummo, Mr. Lonely), and Barry McGee. Also on hand are other noted names like Mike Mills, Steven "Espo" Powers, and Margaret Kilgallen. Directors Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard use a loose, scrapbook style in examining their various interviewees, creating more of a vague collage canvas than a probing, insightful portrait. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially since many of the featured faces are far more interesting in standard, post-modern sound bite stretches. But the real problem comes with context. Beautiful Losers assumes that when they toss a name out there like Chris Johanson, Jo Jackson, or Geoff McFetridge, you get the connection. The reference clicks in your brain and an entire background of time, place, prominence, importance, and relevance falls into place.
And yet that's not what happens. Sure, the detailed look at their portfolio suggests why they are featured here, and for many, the work is outstanding. It's pop art pilfered from the media and the mental ennui of current social stratagems. It's tagging tied to more than just individual boasting and metropolitan pride. Within the various line drawings, propaganda posters, wall murals, and found element montages, we get the point. We see people trying to connect with a world that's long since given up on expression as a respected, viable skill. We see individuals working out their deepest, inner most issues. We see slackers who've accidentally fallen into the process, and pure craftsman who know their limits -- and what their audience likes -- and meticulously manufactures the same each and every time. Some see the big picture and provide the necessary point of view. Others are just lost in their own unique universes and have no desire to step out of them.
But without the factual framework, without the entire set-up and events follow through, we feel lost. Certainly, we envy their ability and marvel at the vision they foster, but Beautiful Losers is not really a documentary in the traditional sense. It has no main thesis, no way of tying everyone together except via time, place, style, and membership in a mutual admiration society. When the DVD takes the time to get to know them better -- as part of several sensational bonus features that find each artist demonstrating some facet of their talent -- we finally get the message. These are some incredibly talented people, able to manufacture something significant -- or at the very least, intriguing -- out of minimal supplies and support. They don't carry the swagger of some renowned artists, people who purposefully hold themselves out to be iconoclasts or medium martyrs. With the clean, crisp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image and the easy to understand Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (with English subtitles), we get a genial if not completely comprehensive look at some very interesting lives.
Along with the tagline about their lasting cultural legacy, Beautiful Losers comes up with the following marketing motto as well -- "Make Something From Nothing." Indeed, no four words could better sum up both the efforts of these endemic individuals, and the movie featuring them.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site