Film : Reel life of the famous
Can the famous and not-so-famous live together happily? For an answer, watch Paul Hasegawa-Overacker's and Tom Donahue's documentary, "Guest of Cindy Sherman," the film The Martha's Vineyard Film Society is screening at the Katharine Cornell Theatre this Saturday, October 4.
Some may be put off by the seemingly random haphazard way "Guest of Cindy Sherman" unfolds, but it's important to keep in mind that it is a conscious technique and a pose.
Conceptual photographer Cindy Sherman became a New York art world celebrity in the 1980s through her photo impersonations of B-movie starlets and other stereotypic women. Most often dressing herself up as the subject of her photographs, Ms. Sherman ironically became known for shying away from the limelight in real life. This is part of what makes the film intriguing.
Calling himself Paul H-O (Paul Hasegawa-Overacker) the co-director's far humbler star rose about the same time through a public access TV interview show, "Gallery Beat," that he started with a couple of friends. A rough-cut, off-the-cuff tour of the art scene, "Gallery Beat" epitomizes the do-it-yourself TV movement that at its best has offered entertaining and humor-leavened insights into how we all live, a sort of America's Funkiest Home Videos.
In "Guest of Cindy Sherman," Mr. Hasegawa-Overacker meets Ms. Sherman on a "Gallery Beat" shoot of a Soho art opening. Interviews with Ms. Sherman follow, and soon the film is chronicling the romance that blossoms between the two in the midst of intermingling with the Soho art world's glitterati. You won't see any hand holding or kissing take place on camera, in the film's strange mix of public and private intimacy.
Each phase of their relationship does make it onto tape. Ms. Sherman's career takes off to even higher levels, while Mr. Hasegawa-Overacker's sputters along. After he loses a suit with his landlord, they decide to live together.
We meet the couple's parents and watch while celebrities like Eric Bogosian, Molly Ringwald, Carol Kane, and Julian Schnabel come and go, providing commentary on the two or hurling insults at Mr. H-O and "Gallery Beat."
In addition to documenting the trendy New York art world in the 80s and 90s, the directors examine what happens to Mr. Hasegawa-Overacker's would-be career as an art commentator and his discomfort with the peripheral role he plays in his girlfriend's fame. Operating his video camera like an extra appendage, he interviews the un-famous partners of other celebrities, including Elton John's boyfriend, Canadian filmmaker David Furnish. He goes on a local radio talk show to discuss "Famous Girlfriend Syndrome."
After the two have tried couples counseling, the relationship ends. Mr. Hasegawa-Overacker explains the split in his stream-of-conscious style: "I got downsized. I think I got laid off from being the boyfriend. I had assumed we'd get old together."
Life goes on for this wanna-be, who drops out of the art world and goes surfing in Central America. In the meantime, "Guest of Cindy Sherman" has taken aim on what celebrity means in our world and exploded some of our assumptions.
In the most cynical sense, Mr. Hasegawa-Overacker is simply trying to cash in on his brush with celebrity. Bob Dylan's girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, did it recently with a book about her four years with the singer. The flipped gender roles in "Guest of Cindy Sherman" change the perspective, though, and take Mr. Hasegawa-Overacker's quest for understanding what happened to them in different, occasionally more insightful directions.
The same technology that has led to You Tube's Internet grapevine and the proliferation of reality shows on TV allows Paul Hasegawa-Overacker to close the gap between celebrity and ordinariness. Once we all turn our lives into public, mediated events, maybe fame won't carry so much clout.
"Guest of Cindy Sherman," Saturday, Oct. 4, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven, 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $8 ($5 for Film Society Members). Doors open at 7 p.m.
Brooks Robards writes on film, art, and books for The Martha's Vineyard Times.