With paintings titled “Picasso's Ass Falling Off” and “Fuck You Invasion,” artist Wayne White isn't trying to win his way into the British tea-sipping upper-crust. But serial F-bomber Wayne White might have already won his way into your heart.
White won multiple Emmys in the '80s for a show that my generation will never forget, the psychedelic kids program for all ages, “Pee-wee's Playhouse.” White designed several of the Playhouse's puppets (including mean-old Randy), remarkable considering that the young man wasn't a trained puppet designer. But he was equipped with the most essential resource for the job: an imagination. And this imagination would serve him well as he experimented with multiple media: on his way from puppet-master to painter, he also provided the art direction for the music videos of Peter Gabriel's “Big Time” and Smashing Pumpkins' “Tonight Tonight.” As interview subjects such as Paul Reubens, Matt Groening, and Mark Mothersbaugh are happy to tell you, Wayne White has done a little bit of everything, and done it all very well.
Director Neil Berkeley draws an affectionate portrait of the ornery and charismatic creator whose avowed goal is to shove humor right down the throats of the stuffy art-world establishment. The film probably overstates the case: the supposedly elitist Los Angeles art scene seems to have embraced White's often profane word paintings without much resistance. White's signature style is to “appropriate” cheap landscape paintings and sketch giant letters over them, often carving out sharp or sinuous phrases such as “Heinies 'n Hooters w/ Hotties at Hooters” or the the title of this documentary, “Beauty Is Embarrassing.” What does Wayne White mean by the latter phrase? He'll tell you later.
The documentary uses White's one-man autobiographical show (he is truly a restless worker) as a framing device while taking a long detour to revisit his childhood home in Tennessee where his proud parents still reside. White moved to New York as a young man, and followed “Playhouse” to Los Angeles, but his identity as a small-town Southern boy has fueled his need to feel like an outsider no matter how successful he became. This portion of the film (looping all the way back to first-grade) feels a bit unfocused and rambling, but Berkeley clearly believes that no portrayal of this artist would be complete without this context.
White isn't depicted as a singular, isolated visionary. He might be an agitator, but he is well-grounded in his family life, not just his now-supportive (though understandably once-skeptical) parents, but also his talented wife Mimi Pond, an accomplished cartoonist and writer. White's children are also developing their own creative voices, leaving dad with a tough decision: encourage the kids to do whatever they want, or offer feedback (even... criticism!) and defining their output the way so many people tried to do to him, the kind of people who have so often prompted White's favorite retort, “Fuck you!”
Perhaps White's greatest advantage, aside from his loved ones, is his refusal ever to take himself too seriously: “I think humor is sacred... without it, we're dead.” This sense of humor has enabled White to reinvent himself on a constant basis, and has even helped him maintain his edge even in the face of one of the great challenges for any rebel artist: acceptance.
Th film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is solid if unremarkable, and the quality obviously varies on some of the archival material (clips from “Pee Wee's Playhouse,” etc.).
The disc includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 options. There is no significant difference between the two. Dialogue is cleanly recorded and the sound design is otherwise fairly straightforward. No subtitles are offered.
The film is accompanied by an audio commentary track by White and Berkeley.
The disc includes seven Deleted Scenes, several of which run just a few minutes. The lengthy ones include an excerpt from White's show at the Largo Theater in Los Angeles (34 minutes) and his preparation for that show (11 min.) One of the most interesting short pieces shows how White sketches out one of his word paintings (4 min.)
The DVD also includes three postcard-sized mini-posters of White's word paintings on a nice thick stock.
Is art a four letter word in your town? Do what Wayne White did and turn that four letter word into a mission... and fun for the whole family.