Every year there is one documentary released that is a pool full of creative inspiration. These films are made to grab you–the sponge–and dunk you inside of it, leaving you full of inspiration and ideas and all sorts of artistic excitement that you could practically paint enough paintings to fill a museum. Herb & Dorothy did that in 2008 and Bill Cunningham New York did that in 2010 and–this year–the Wayne White focused Beauty Is Embarrassing does the same thing.
The documentary is a bright, moving biography on the life and work of White, an artist from the American South who always found that art had a strangely transformative, inherent humor in it and that was how he needed to express himself. He got into puppets and making experimental films and painting and was driven to go to New York for work, where he ended up landing a big gig on what many know him for now: coming up with visuals for the show Pee Wee’s Playhouse. He’s participated in various projects from Beekman’s World to Offspring music videos and has still based his work in an incredibly artistic, smart, humorous place. His story is one of being the bizarro underdog in an industry as occasionally vicious as Hollywood.
White is a permanently happy guy and that is what makes this film so appealing and so successful: he is a bright shining light and you are a hypnotized moth in love with him. He’s a person who is always on. Whether he is in his home LA studio making stick puppets or walking around Griffith Park in a giant cardboard mask made to look like Lyndon B. Johnson, he is always exuding that goofball brilliance that everyone from Paul Ruebens to Matt Groening to Todd Oldham have seen and have done all they could to share.
His tale is a surprising LA success story, too. While he did work in Hollywood and did beat himself with strange, anti-artistic industry jobs, he always was making on the side. He even started painting and just wanted to share them anywhere so he went to his local coffee shop–Fred 62–and asked if he could exhibit there. They said yes, buzz started to build around them, he started to get shown elsewhere, and now there are books written about him, he does conversational performances about his work, and you can see this entire process in the documentary.
The film is very well made and leaves you wanting to get up and do something. You want to make, you want to activate that Wayne White inside of you to set Los Angeles (and beyond) on fire much like he is able to do. White is such an inspiring guy and the film (directed by Neil Berkeley) appropriately matches the artist’s kooky brilliance. It’s a movie to buy and watch and rewatch as a mantra that you can overcome and that you should overcome: you’re the creative genius that you’ve always known yourself to be–you just can’t stop doing what you do until you can’t do it anymore. That seems to be White’s mantra, too.