The best thing about Guest of Cindy Sherman, Paul H-O and Tom Donahue’s shaggy dog documentary about H-O’s unlikely love affair with art star Cindy Sherman, is its unpredictable trajectory. Recalling last year’s superior Operation Filmmaker, Guest of Cindy Sherman began as a straightforward work of nonfiction before spiraling into something wayward, uncertain, and lifelike. Documentaries too often shoehorn subjects into familiar shapes, sizes, and narrative arcs, making ostensible failures like these far more engrossing to watch. But while Operation Filmmaker had game, keenly self-incriminating improviser Nina Davenport behind the camera, neither H-O nor Donahue seem to know what to make of their film’s rough edges and sore spots. And their ambivalence about Sherman betrays either dishonesty—the celebrity interviews, audience interest, and theatrical distribution all depend on her name being in the title—or titanic petulance.
The film begins with H-O (short for Hasegawa-Overacker) recounting the creation of his New York public access show GalleryBeat in 1993. Wielding a video camera that he barely knew how to operate, this onetime artist (glimpsed briefly in the film, his unique surf board-inspired wall sculptures bespeak an abandoned talent) covered the New York art scene with a gonzo, nobody’s-watching-anyway spirit. Alongside “Art in America” editor Walter Robinson, his bull-in-a-China-shop fellow traveler, H-O made a sport of crashing gallery openings, filming even when disallowed, bum-rushing artists and curators with unanswerables (“What is this supposed to mean?”), and generally taking the piss. Judging from the footage included here, GalleryBeat often straddled the line between irreverence and inanity, car-wreck fascination and tedium. Since both H-O and Robinson cared deeply about art, theirs was a performance piece unto itself, pretending to be barbarians at the gate in order to lampoon the gatekeepers and relieve the pretension. But the truth of it, finally revealed when H-O meets and pursues Sherman, is that the crashers also wanted an invitation to the party.
Click here to read the rest of Eric Hynes’s review of Guest of Cindy Sherman.