Beautiful Losers

Beautiful Losers

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Yet another nonfiction peek into a little-known subculture, Beautiful Losers details the 1990s rise to semi-prominence of a group of anti-establishment, do-it-yourself NYC artists. Directed by Aaron Rose (with co-director Joshua Leonard), whose downtown storefront gallery served as the meeting place and the first public platform for these outcasts’ work, the film (scored by Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark) is something of an unjustified love letter, not because its subjects don’t necessarily deserve a cinematic retrospective, but simply because the case made here for their importance is sketchy at best. Rose wisely leans on candid interviews with, among others, Shepard Fairey, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills, Barry McGee and Harmony Korine, all of whom became friends and collaborators while living in New York, and who discuss their work with appealing humor and insightfulness. As the directors elucidate, these artists are bound by a lifestyle rooted in graffiti, hip-hop, skateboarding and punk rock—outsider forms that helped influence their own unconventional output. More intriguing still is the film’s depiction of the role that public spaces play in their creative process, which—as evidenced by Stephen Powers’s project restoring Coney Island landmarks—is driven by a belief in art’s ability to both serve as a personal expression and engage in communal dialogue. Rose and Leonard, however, don’t properly contextualize this mini-scene within the larger art world, nor provide basic background on their speakers. This means that the way these individuals’ experiences led to an interest in civic work, as well as the eventual tension which arose when their fringe art was embraced by the mainstream, are never adequately explored. In an archival interview, Kilgallen states that community art interests her because “that’s where I’m from,” but where she’s from, who she is, and how her life shaped her creations are topics that receive little concrete attention, as the filmmakers’ compassionate but detached portrait ultimately seeks to capture the spirit of a movement rather than fully examine the unique people and diverse work that comprised it.

Distributor
Sidetrack Films
Runtime
90 min
Rating
NR
Year
2008
Director
Aaron Rose, Joshua Leonard
Cast
Shepard Fairey, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills, Barry McGee, Jo Jackson, Chris Johanson, Harmony Korine, Stephen Powers, Geoff McFetridge, Thomas Campbell, Ed Templeton