Whenever I set out to review a movie, whether it’s a documentary or “Breaking Dawn Pt. 2,” I have a notebook and pen handy. I continuously scribble notes down, mostly diagonally when the theater is too dark, but I have never drawn or doodled anything. “Beauty is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story” made me doodle – and not from boredom. The film is filled with so much lighthearted creativity that I began to sketch out many of Wayne’s own ideas and concepts.
However, in the beginning, the the documentary seems a little silly. Wayne White doesn’t even take himself seriously. Half live performance, half recorded footage, the documentary starts out with White walking out onstage, playing the banjo as some sort of jocular introduction. Dancing around, his own art scattered behind him in a jumbled mess, he starts his story without even formally introducing himself.
Despite this casual, comical atmosphere, he poses a question to his live audience and the viewers of the film, asking them to define beauty. Laughing, he says he’ll tell them his definition later.
Quick screen shots delve into White’s different medias of art. He’s worn the title of painter, sculptor, puppeteer, set designer and more for over thirty years. His pieces all have something in common though, even if they’re made from completely different mediums: they’re all fun.
Although entertaining, for years, “fun” was looked upon as an antonym for “talent” in the art world. To be blunt, serious critics didn’t take White, seriously. Drawing inappropriate phrases and words on skillfully crafted realist paintings, creating eccentric puppets of historical figures and country stars, or sketching out nonsensical cartoons, everything White created was considered fun – but that’s how he wanted it.
The film goes on to dissect White’s personality, searching for an answer for his obsession of making fantastical, fun art. The audience meets his family: A wife, two kids, his mom and dad, his sister, even some of his childhood best friends. Through interviews and voice-overs they discuss White’s childhood. His love for drawing and how it made people happy, entertained them. They uncover that a tragic event in his life probably affected him as well, forcing him to create a happier, funnier version of the world.
But throughout the film, these reasons and backstory are washed away by White’s strict rule to not take himself, or even his art, too seriously. What matters is he’s creating something that will delight people and nothing more.
On the other hand, as White’s timeline presses forward, he becomes more and more renowned in the art world. His sets and puppets in the infamous MTV television series “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” get him noticed in Hollywood, allowing him to design for multiple programs and even create his own shorts. In time he received three Emmy Awards. He even broke one – once again showing just how trivial the awards are.
Constantly coming up with new projects and crazy ideas, White makes all 90 minutes of the movie wacky and interesting. I kept wanting to see what he would do next. White plays an important role in modern art, making a huge impact, not only the pop art world, but also the creativity of the children who grew up watching his shows. But as of 2011, he spends the majority of his time drawing obscene thoughts on thrift store paintings.
If you’re looking to be inspired or need to review a documentary for class, I highly recommend Beauty is Embarrassing. Watch it instantly on Netflix or buy it for $9.99 here. Trust me, it’s worth it.