White’s credits are impressive. In addition to work for several children’s television programs and MTV, he won three Emmy awards for design for “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” to which he contributed voice-over acting and puppets. White also created animation for The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” music videos. We meet his family (parents and sister), see childhood pictures and super-8 movies, early paintings, and proceed chronologically through his life with annoying background music not trusting the content to maintain interest, and, sadly, it doesn’t.
While several art dealers and artists praise White’s talent, director/writer/producer Berkeley does White no favors. Footage chosen from over 300 hours of film and video presents White as a self conscious, albeit narcissistic, person. In fact, the title comes, White explains, from the awe, emotional vulnerability, and embarrassment we feel when struck by true beauty, but this potentially rich idea worth pursuing comes in the closing minutes.
Most importantly, this profile fails to offer insight into White’s processes. The film is as scattergun as White himself, perhaps mimicking its subject but not informing those viewers, myself included, eager to learn about White and his context. In press notes, Berkeley writes of his friendship with White, but good profiles come with perspective not adulation.
Shots of audiences laughing and clapping don’t elicit laughter or applause without substance, and there’s too little depth here to give this multi-dimensional artist his due. If you’re not already a Wayne White fan, there’s little here to add to his fan base.
“Beauty Is Embarrassing” will screen at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, January 4th through Sunday, January 6th. For information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or go to the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.