Beautiful Losers, Aaron Rose’s Celebratory Portrait of the Early-’90s L.E.S. Artists


The ongoing trouble with docs about artists is that too few are very artfully made themselves, or else they flat out fail to demonstrate any insight into their subjects’ impulses/goals/creative processes. Displaying artwork on-screen and interpreting it via talking-head sound bites has become the new dancing-about-architecture. Alleged gallery curator turned filmmaker Aaron Rose’s celebratory portrait of the early-’90s L.E.S. fringe artists who took part in his traveling exhibition—success stories like propaganda parodist Shepard Fairey, Thumbsucker director and visual artist Mike Mills, and skateboarding prodigy turned photographer and painter Ed Templeton—makes all the aforementioned missteps. “Look how cool my dispossessed friends are!” the filmmaker seems to boast—as when fellow DIY-er Harmony Korine amusingly tells playground kids that his friend’s decapitated head was found where they’re playing. Rose superficially confronts the tenuously connected (or, in this case, thinly spread) group on the mainstream’s co-opting of their outsider sensibilities and the personal expressions that define their work; he, like the artists, seems uninterested in reflecting on society or culture writ large. And yet, regardless of Rose’s intentions, his underachieving airiness is both entertaining and perfectly fitting for the slacker ennui of his clique’s rising years—when comic books were for nerds, skateboarding and graffiti for rebels, and none of these cats could’ve predicted the Pepsi and Marc Jacobs campaigns coming their way.