Beauty Is Embarrassing

Beauty Is Embarrassing

Directed by: Neil Berkeley
88 minutes

New England Premiere

You may not know Wayne White, but you likely know his work: he was the creative director behind much of the look and feel of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, in addition to the music video for Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” and the Georges Méliès-inspired Smashing Pumpkins video “Tonight Tonight.”

White hooked up with the Pee-Wee team not long after college and experienced quick and heady success. But afterward, he found limited work; indeed, White’s art is so unique and strange that finding the right outlet almost seems to rely on the forces of nature. His most recent effort, for which he’ll likely be best remembered, is a series of paintings that involve placing bright, shiny, 3D lettering over mass-produced lithograph landscapes—the kind you can pick up by the half-dozen at your local Salvation Army. The words and phrases White uses are often crass and provocative and, at first glance, the works seem like mere novelties. But give them a moment, and you’ll likely find that they have an odd staying power—not unlike White himself.

First-time director Neil Berkeley mixes montages with slowly developing sequences that depict, for instance, White traveling back to his Tennessee home to help a local high school produce a high-concept art piece. The result is a film that feels like the beginning of a relationship—one that will stay with you long after the final frame.

—Patton Dodd