DVD Review: Beautiful Losers a Surprising Winner

Art is something that rich people are interested in. It can only be understood with fancy degrees, and art can only be made by people who have lots and lots of training. We've all heard people say such things, or thought them ourselves, in our darker moments. Beautiful Losers is aimed right at the heart of such lies and dispels them quickly, bringing us into the unruly center of an entire generation of modern artists. Some create because they always have, many without formal training, and all because they feel they must. The remarkable thing is their apparent non-plan has worked. Their lack of initial direction and commitment to creating for the fun of it quickly catapulted them into an entire art world they had been squarely outside of.

Beautiful Losers is an exceptional look at a particular community of modern American artists who have had incredible impact on the art scene in the past 10 years. The film features big-name artist Shepard Fairey, although he isn't in as much of the film as filmmaker Harmony Korine, former pro-skater Ed Templeton, and director Mike Mills, as well as Barry McGee, Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen -- all in all over 20 artists make appearances in the film. These are the people who are now directing commercials, influencing popular music, and being copied relentlessly. Many of them have gone on to astonishing commercial success, but still grapple with what that means for their lives. Can one begin as a kid, making crazy subversive art with one's friends, only to grow up and make millions from corporate America? These are some of the most outspoken, political, savvy artists working today, many of whom are well known even to those with a casual interest in contemporary culture.

Artist after artist expresses their reasons for making art, from the inspiration of New York graffiti to the joy of creation that is often lost when children reach adulthood. These people are collaborators and friends, and most share common ground in the early 1990s art scene of New York. The do-it-yourself artistic community began as these outsider kids made cool stuff to show their friends. And it literally was as simple as that. They gathered together and put up their art in a small gallery owned by a friend, and it turned out that other people really liked it too. The remarkable thing about this particular group is their belief in the experimental, as they play around with graffiti one day and take up painting or filmmaking the next. There's a great deal of joy in the creation itself, though the artists are shy about committing to one singular vision or interpretation of even their own work. This isn't to say there's not belief or passion, just a wariness to pin down too precisely waht they themselves are still exploring.

Clocking in at 90 minutes, Beautiful Losers doesn't feel short and is an excellent documentary as it is. One improvement would have been a deeper exploration of how this particular community deals with the complexities of being a working artist, as many of the artists seem to take pains to explain how they desire to live ethical and moral lives. The film is loosely built, mostly arranged chronologically, though it does not adhere to any strict rules. Artists are introduced sporadically and address a variety of topics concerning their art, the origins of the movement, and their responsibilities as artists and human beings. If it sounds like a chaotic mess at times, it can seem that way, but the fast-paced film never bores, and that we are given the opportunity to hear an entire movement give an explanation for their existence is undeniably unique. Also included on the DVD is a series of short videos of several of the artists as they lead do-it-yourself workshops teaching kids how to make posters, paint skateboards, edit video, and a host of other creative endeavors.

On the inside flap of the DVD, director and interviewee Aaron Rose states his desire for the film to inspire people -- not only artists, but anyone who is working through what it means to grow up. The film does that, while documenting a movement that continues on through this day, and is still growing up, evolving and writing its own history. While Beautiful Losers isn't particularly groundbreaking or legendary, it is inspiring, and a clever gift for anyone creative who struggles with finding purpose in their work.

Beautiful Losers is available December 8, 2009 from Oscilloscope Labs.