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Review: 'Beauty' in the eye of a quirky beholder

'Beauty Is Embarrassing' is an entertaining portrait of pop art's Wayne White.

September 06, 2012|By Gary Goldstein
  • A scene from "Beauty Is Embarrassing."
A scene from "Beauty Is Embarrassing." (Handout )

"Beauty Is Embarrassing" spotlights prolific painter, puppeteer and raconteur Wayne White, whose early success as a three-time Emmy Award-winning designer of the 1980s-era "Pee-wee's Playhouse" (he also created and voiced several of the show's memorable characters) would prove just a fraction of what this visionary talent had in store.

As one observer here aptly — and non-hyperbolically — sums it up, White is "a founding father of the current state of pop art."

Director (and co-writer, co-producer and co-cinematographer) Neil Berkeley has crafted a buoyant, engaging, visually alluring portrait of the Tennessee-born White from underground young Greenwich Village artist to workaholic L.A. transplant up through to his still-irrepressible middle age.

Although perhaps best recognized these days for his word art (pre-painted landscapes onto which he vividly inserts profanely kicky phrases), White, who's been long-married to fellow artist Mimi Pond and has designed and animated other TV kids' shows and music videos, also still revels in kooky mask-building and cardboard-and-hot-glue sculpting. Why not?

The movie's playful, kinetic pacing as it weaves together colorful personal, behind-the-scenes and live performance footage, along with crisp interviews with such collaborators and admirers as Matt Groening, Mark Mothersbaugh, Todd Oldham and, of course, Paul Reubens, plays in perfect sync with White's jaunty, off-kilter persona.

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"Beauty Is Embarrassing." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood.

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