Beauty is Embarrassing (Just Ask Wayne White)
Wayne White is one of those fellows, male or female, you know without knowing. He collected three Emmys for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (and broke one), designed the puppets for Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” video, designed the space ship etc. for the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” clip, built a huge puppet head of Lyndon B. Johnson (not shown here) complete with tie, built even huger puppets like the one shown here, including one of George Jones’ head (not shown here). The latter is much larger than most of my college dorm bedrooms were. That doesn’t cover everything. But it covers enough to get started.
Beauty Is Embarrassing, opening tonight at the Northwest Film Forum, includes White’s wife, Mimi Pond, urging him obliquely to shave the beard he sports at the film’s outset, possibly because with a beard he looks shockingly like Joaquin Phoenix in the latter’s faux-loco phase. A handsome feller with or without facial hair, White guides us through his escape from the South to New York City, his escape from New York City to Hollywood, and his escape from Hollywood to, hopefully, a better place inside and outside his head.
Along the artist’s path, thorny condundrums present themselves–the old follow-your-heart vs. count-your-money trick. When White exhorts his audience to follow their hearts, I want to believe, but I’m also wondering, in this economy–in this world– if he’s exhorting cliff jumps. His many paintings with many big words on them, many obscene, should make you laugh. I also liked the eyeball barbell he brought with him: That’s one barbell with a huge eyeball at each end, each orb quite possibly pulled from George Jones’ cranium. The film glosses over artistic struggle and makes life and creativity look easy, both potential pitfalls. But it’s a warm opus with plenty of laughs. And as White explains with surprising passion, he takes laughter very seriously.