Starring: Harmony Korine, Mike Mills, Ed Templeton, Aaron Rose, Margaret Kilgallen, Barry McGee, Thomas Campbell, Cheryl Dunn, Shepard Fairey, Jo Jackson, Chris Johanson, Geoff McFetridge, Stephen Powers & Deanna Templeton
Directed by Aaron Rose
Co-Directed by Joshua Leonard
Official Site

Polly Staffle Rating: ****

“One thing that I am positive of, I am compulsively addicted to expression. That’s one thing that I know. I can’t live without it. When I don’t do it, I don’t function very well. That’s just the way that I go about living. It’s like a little tool that I need to talk to myself about society, the set up of things, this planet, and human existence.” - Giuseppe Andrews

There’s a scene early on in the documentary “Beautiful Losers” where Harmony Korine is standing at Fannie May Dees Park in Nashville, Tennessee. Korine used to hang out there as a teenager. Often called Dragon Park due to a giant mosaic dragon sculpture, Korine says the place was a magnet for punks, skaters, druggies, goths and such. Now as he stands there, little children run around and enjoy the nearby playground.

A friend of Korine’s named Samuel was murdered at the park in 1986. They found Samuel’s head in the center of the dragon sculpture, Korine said. The kids now playing there have no idea. It’s weird how the park could mean one thing to him and something completely different to the families and children that now visit that very spot, Korine explains.

But that is exactly how life is. No two people have the same exact experiences. No two people see anything exactly the same. Life’s about sharing experiences and connecting with each other. Without those things there is simply nothingness. That’s what “Beautiful Losers,” which was first a moniker, then an experimental art tour, followed by a book and now an award-winning documentary, is about to me. To someone else it might mean something completely different or perhaps lacks focus and means nothing at all.

“Beautiful Losers,” directed by Aaron Rose and co-directed by actor Joshua Leonard (“The Blair Witch Project”), is an inspirational film. On the surface, it is about a group of teenagers that came together for the sake of having fun that have since gone on to find success in their various fields of killing boredom. On a wider scale, it’s about paving your own way instead of following the pack, it’s about creativity, it’s about passion, it’s about the importance of nurturing, it’s about communication, it’s about community, and last, but not least, it’s about the easiest way to share and connect with those around us - art.

Art is such a strange thing. When I say art, I mean paintings, photos, film, music, writing and anything that is of an expressive nature, including sports. There is nothing quite like it. It starts off with a very personal and, often times, selfish conception and can go on to effect, inspire and touch millions of people. It can also mean completely different things to everyone that lays eyes or ears on it. Art is quite remarkable when you think about it that way.

This documentary, which was the best damn thing that played the 10th Annual CineVegas Film Festival, follows the cultural DIY (do-it-yourself) movement that grew out of Generation X in the 1990’s through a group of Andy Warhol-type artists that are now known as the “Beautiful Losers.” The film’s director Aaron Rose founded the highly influential Alleged Gallery in New York. The gallery didn’t really begin as a gallery, thus its name. It was more of a hangout spot for slackers, rejects, misfits and members of various street and youth subcultures. It was an old store front and on the weekends there bands of outsiders, skateboarders, punk rockers, as well as hip hop, underground and graffiti artists would come together and party.

Though most of the “losers” had no formal training, they begin to create various types of works of “beautiful” art that reflected the lifestyles they led. “Make something from nothing” the film’s tagline reads. And that’s what they did. Naively, stupidly, without a care in the world, the “Beautiful Losers” blazed a trail in the art world and influenced society by being completely true to themselves. Emerging from the pack was artist, writer, filmmaker, musician and curator Aaron Rose - who sort of reminds me of Giovanni Ribisi - along with 13 other art pioneers that are in the film. Harmony Korine, Ed Templeton, Mike Mills and Shepard Fairey are four of the better known players featured.

Korine, a film director, producer, screenwriter and author, penned the Larry Clark scripts “Kids” and “Ken Park,” and has directed “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey-Boy” and “Mister Lonely.” He wrote the screenplay for the amazingly powerful “Kids” when he was just 19. Ed Templeton also found success as a teenager. He dropped out of high school to go on tour as a professional skateboarder and has since done well as a photographer (along with his wife Deanna) and a graphics artist. He was the subject of a short documentary “Deformer” directed by Mike Mills, a film/music video director and graphic designer.

Since “Deformer” Mills made his feature debut as a director with “Thumbsucker.” He has also crafted music videos for Moby and Yoko Ono, and worked on promotional material and album artwork for the Beastie Boys, Beck, Sonic Youth and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Fairey is best known for creating the “Andre the Giant has a Posse” sticker campaign. You’ve most likely seen his work as it has grown into a cult phenomenon. The Big Brother-esque “Obey” stickers that feature the face of wrestler Andre the Giant can be viewed on street signs, billboards, bus stops and just about anywhere vandals want you to see them. Rounding out “Beautiful Losers” are Barry McGee aka TWIST, Chris Johanson, Geoff McFetridge, Jo Jackson, Margaret Killgallen, Stephen Powers aka ESPO, Thomas Campbell and Cheryl Dunn.

We hear from each of these artists and see some of their work in the film, which won the Pioneer Documentaries category at CineVegas from a jury made up of filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, critic Robert Abele and Tamara Krinsky, associate editor of IDA’s documentary magazine. We learn how their journeys from outsider to insider began and where it has taken them.

Through the eyes of those that played a part in the movement, we are able to understand that influence and inspiration from other artists isn’t a bad thing, that creating for oneself isn’t a bad thing and that doing your own thing, even if others say it is the wrong thing, isn’t a bad thing. The film also speaks volumes about creative expression and what it means.

As children we are a blank slate. We are exposed to art in various ways. By the time we are in junior high, if we haven’t excelled in some type of artistic field, we as individuals and those around us, usually give up on our abilities. Often times, the kid that likes drawing, painting, creative writing and even playing a sport, but isn’t very good, gives up by age 12 or so. “I suck,” they think, expecting they’ll always be at the level they are at 12 and never become any better. But they will become better as long as they continue to pursue that dream. The key is sticking with it; practice, trial and error, and most importantly, performing the act over and over again does wonders. Through the selfish act of trying to master the skills or even performing them due to boredom, one becomes better and better at the craft. Along the way, the individuals create art and share it with others for support, feedback, critiques, competitions, etc. In creating something that is important to themselves, artists simultaneously create an entity that also means something to everyone else. No two people have identical tastes or the exact same vaules, so it might be seen as offensive by some and praised by others. Likewise, to some it might mean a lot, to others not as much so.

We all see the world in a different way and expressing that point of view through various channels is art. Through painting, drawing, photographing, taping, filming, writing, sculpting, singing, dancing, performing and yes, even playing, we create art - from dunking a basketball, throwing a touchdown, writing a screenplay, directing a television commercial, crafting a song, inking a comic book to spray painting, spinning pottery, designing a website and on and on and on. As humans, the ability to do these things is a gift and like “Beautiful Losers” shows us, sharing it with others is our necessity.

- CCF, July 2008

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