guest of cindy sherman lost its coterie fascination as soon as the 1975 hearts and minds (both are showing at cinema village) was revived. an art-world hanger-on's moping about his bad match with a famous girlfriend-though candid, revealing and with justified self-pity-shriveled next to the historic anti-vietnam war screed. it makes for a revealing contrast: contemporary solipsistic documentary versus the old-style, impassioned, investigative kind. whether or not you know the name cindy sherman (she was the 1980s soho icon whose photographic self-portraits raised catatonic acting to gallery-expressing feminist victimization), the story of a social-climbing wannabe artist who temporarily won her heart-and penetrated her famously self-protective enigma-holds interest as a modern a star is born legend.
co-director paul h-o's own artisanal art never caught on. retreating into cable-tv, producing and performing "gallery beat" (an interview program showcasing the lucrative and often ludicrous 1980s new york art scene), brought him into sherman's orbit. his ambition flattered her sense of self-importance. their relationship was doomed but also destined to reveal to paul (a mixed-race california surfing enthusiast born paul hasegawa-overacker) the art world's pretenses and fakery.
paul h-o almost breaks the fourth wall between art and promotion. he looks at the contemporary new york art scene where temerity is equivalent to success; he runs after its stars and nearly exposes the pretense of cliques and hype and class advantage. almost but not quite: julian schnabel's rage at a gallery may be inexcusable, yet paul h-o is still doing tmz-style celebrity stalking.
what's missing from the doc-what it needs-was relayed in an interview paul h-o gave to joy press: "i think 'control' is the key term to use. there is so much control that is exercised, not only in [sherman's] world but in the art world in general. that's why we don't know things about the art world. we don't know that art dealers are paid a 50 percent commission. nobody in the art world questions that level of a take. they just accept it. and artists are the type of people who don't organize very well. they are all pretty much a bunch of loners just sort of stuck together. the business is strong, and they're afraid of not getting their work seen, of not being able to sell their work."
paul h-o might have exposed "dealers" who were agents, publicists, protectors-the real movers and shakers of the culture industry-but his romantic wounds get in the way. (his sympathizing with david furnish, elton john's arm-candy, doesn't reveal much). at its best, guest of cindy sherman counters the photo-icon's own work.
blond, shy sherman herself looks like underground actress ellen mcelduff, but she flirts like annie hall. this personalized doc is a lovelorn footnote-and now, so is peter davis' hearts and minds.
the recent collapse of documentary integrity owes to the left media's uncontrollable hostility toward bush administration policies: a legacy of watergate. but re-seeing hearts and minds shows how the collapse started in scenes where director davis contrasts a veteran's support of the war with imagery of wartime calamity. davis' visual argument overwhelms rationality. this was the beginning of red/blue antagonism-turning benighted patriotism against an opponent's humanity.
today hearts and minds is troubling when it was once rousing. that's because 9/11 and the recent bush elections changed popular perspective on the american military into a partisan power struggle. heedless television also changed notions of truth-so that daniel ellsberg's tearful broken faith now looks untrustworthy in the age of survivor and the real world. the crux of davis' rhetoric is a 'nam veteran's final word: "i think americans have worked extremely hard not to see the criminality that their officials and their policy makers have exhibited." but the suffering davis memorably captured (whether vietnamese or discombobulated american civilians) is no longer so easily persuasive.
today, the very idea of being "anti-establishment" is over except when it comes to brazening one's political objections. knowing this complicates a response to the defenders of capitalism. so the once-devastating scene of gen. westmoreland's fumbling attempt at anthropological understanding of buddhism-which formerly seemed racist-now only seems so if one subscribes to michael moore oversimplification and non-compassion. despite its power (and lack of pundit sarcasm), hearts and minds never addresses the issue of who benefits more from american imperialism-privileged student protestors or patriotic hardhats? davis' intercut wwii hollywood footage misrepresents patriotism and defense. it is crucial to confront hearts and minds' anachronism-if only to avoid the egotism in guest of cindy sherman. will new viewers think their way through hearts and minds or merely use it to maintain their received opinions on war, to maintain narcissism? -- guest of cindy sherman directed by paul h-o and tom donahue at cinema village beginning march 27 runtime: 88 min.