Film: Beauty Is Embarrassing

Beauty Is Embarrassing
Produced and Directed by Neil Berkeley
Runtime: 87 minutes
Opens September 7th at IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue at West 3rd Street
Appearances by Wayne White and Neil Berkeley following September 7th showings

Wayne White presents “You’re Supposed to Act All Impressed”
Wednesday, September 5th at Alison Eighteen, 15 West 18th Street
$10; Doors at 7:15pm and Performance at 8:00pm
For Information & Reservations: (212) 366-1818;

Do you remember growing up watching Pee-wee Herman’s Playhouse and falling in love with all those silly and playful puppets—the talking globe, the singing flowers? Or the boxy man in the stop-motion music video for Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time”? How about the retro-Victorian spaceships in Smashing Pumpkin’s “Tonight Tonight” music video? If none of these ring a bell, perhaps more recently, you’ve seen word paintings in which comical zingers like “Luv Hurtz” or “Date Mate Sate Grate” are painted in three-dimensional perspective over traditional landscape paintings.

One man was a part of or created all these things, and his name is Wayne White. The artist, puppeteer, animator, graphic designer and all-around charismatically funny guy, White is the subject of an engaging, and at times, quite touching, new documentary called “Beauty Is Embarrassing.” The film, which was produced and directed by first-time filmmaker, Neil Berkeley, goes in-depth into the White’s personal odyssey up to now, chronicling specific landmarks and individuals in his life that guided him to the certain likelihood that just this boy from Tennessee would be a successful pop artist today. White’s own first-person storytelling is mixed with footage of his live TED-like talks, supplemented with interviews by past colleagues and friends like Matt Groening, Mark Mothersbaugh, and Todd Oldham.

What makes the film so enjoyable is simply Wayne White himself. With a charming Southern accent, piercing blue eyes and a down-to-earth scruff about him, White is very funny, spouting out his thoughts about MTV or his first puppet show in the East Village or the art world scene, peppered with curse words. The viewer will be sucked in by his self-effacing stories and honest narratives about growing up, working in show business and trying to figure out what he wants to do as a creative, luckily with a strong support system which includes his wife, an established illustrator and cartoonist, Mimi Pond.

To White, humor is sacred, and as can be seen in his work, there is a bit of whimsy—but always with an edge that keeps it raw and present. White, who is now experiencing a self-proclaimed second act with his successful word paintings, proves an exception, though still not necessarily the rule: that art can remain accessible and still be capital-A Art. It can be beautiful, but it can be fun as well.

-Janet Kim



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