I don't get art. I just don't get it. While I can respect landscape painting and portraits, and even some slightly abstract work that elicits a carnal emotional reaction, the concept of "art appreciation" has always eluded me. Some look at a piece of canvas and see a masterpiece while I see a big black dot or drizzles of paint. Where some see a wonderful piece of abstract, postmodern art, I see a bag of trash left out in the open.
But there is something about performance art that captures my attention and absolutely draws me in. The first time I learned about Andy Kaufmann, I was absolutely transfixed that someone could pull the wool over the eyes of so many, so consistently. In a world that was defined by a sort of stock creativity, he was a refreshing breath of fresh air. Respected by the artistic community, Ray Johnson was an artist in the era when his talents and eccentricities were most respected and encouraged. He hung with Andy Warhol, was sought after for showings, able to create hundreds of masterworks without breaking a sweat, yet lived in a poor squalor for most of his days.
"How To Draw A Bunny" is the story of Ray Johnson as an artist and, perhaps far more interestingly, as a person. At times, in fact, during the run of the documentary, his career is eschewed for his personal life and it seems like there were years where Johnson had little-to-no creative output. The film jumps around in the timeline of Johnson's life, beginning at his death, skipping back to his pinnacle of life, dropping briefly to his childhood and upbringing, and then flashing forward to his dealings with Andy Warhol, his psychotic girlfriend, and the performance art he called "nothings."
The documentary interviews a lot of the people who knew Ray Johnson in his prime, friends and compatriots in the art world, and a cousin of the same age. The documentary paints an adequate portrait of the zaniness that was Ray, but after all was said and done, I didn't feel like I knew Ray, let alone understood him. Perhaps it was an impossible task, due to the lack of primary footage of Johnson in action in his prime as opposed to the later-life interviews. That's not to say that the movie doesn't entertain, it does. Much like Johnson himself and his work, you'll either get it or not, but watching what his life was and hypothesizing on his death is a fun ride.
While the video transfer itself suffers from few problems, the sources the documentary was culled from aren't so great. A lot of the archival footage is shot guerilla-style with low-resolution cameras and looks appropriately rough, grainy, and unfocused. The interview footage is shot on video and stuffers from a few slight video problems with occasional glitches. It's also presented in black-and-white and lacks in contrast. The rest of the disc looks decent with few glaring problems outside a slight lack of focus.
A sweet, quirky, jazzy score comes through the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track sweet and clear. The dialogue suffers from the same group of problems as the video based on their origins. Most of the audio is relatively clear, there aren't any overall problems to speak of so it's hard to talk in general terms about this documentary's quality. I'll just say that the quality is perfectly acceptable throughout.
It's amazing that a documentary was made on an artist who never quite made it, let alone that there is a wealth of extra features on the DVD of the film, but that's exactly what we have here.
First and foremost is the director's commentary featuring director John Walter and the film's producer Andrew Moore. The two are very talkative about the creation of their documentary, and they explain why certain portions of the documentary look low budget and others look masterful and expensive. They're very chatty about both the subject of their film and the crafting of a documentary and produce an excellent commentary track for fans of the genre. Honestly, this track is a must-listen for anyone who saw the film because it expands on Ray's life even more than the already substantive film.
About 25 minutes of deleted sequences are found including a tour by the director who tells the story of the editing process and why the stories, also excellent, were cut from the film. Walter also builds up the idea of the film as a collage, something I honestly missed during my viewing but becomes perfectly obvious in retrospect.
The story of the "Ray Johnson Memorial Show" creation and some brief shots of his art are included in a five minute featurette. I learned a lot more about the nature of Ray's art through this featurette than I did through the movie itself. Also included on the disc is a pictorial feature that gives you a chance to immerse yourself in the collages and portraits of Ray Johnson.
Palm Pictures also includes some trailers and previews for their upcoming features.
Almost postmodern in its approach to the life of a postmodern artist, "How To Draw A Bunny" is a wonderful documentary. I never would have thought that I could get into the story of a lesser-known artist who existed in the era when his peers were revolutionizing the world. At very least it's a great look at a revolutionary way to do the documentary style. Ultimately, do I think the death of Ray Johnson was his ultimate "nothing?" The documentary poses the question that has no simple answers. But it's fun to watch the ride.