Make Me Famous

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Make Me Famous
"In telling the story of a man hitherto forgotten by history, director Brian Vincent captures a side of that celebrated scene never seen before, putting all the rest in context and exploring the nature of fame from an unusual perspective." | Photo: Courtesy of Newfest

The New York art scene in the 1980s was one of those creative hotspots whose influence lasts for decades and spreads across the world. It was the time of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons. It was also the time of Edward Brezinski.

“Who?” you might ask. You might worry for a moment that you’re less well informed about this subject than you thought and are in danger of losing your cool. Or you might vaguely remember a story about a man who ate a preserved donut being exhibited by Robert Gober and had to go to hospital. It’s this incident that ultimately gave poor Ed his 15 minutes, though he was a skilled painter and strove all his life to get a bit of the attention bestowed upon his peers.

With this documentary, he might finally achieve it. In telling the story of a man hitherto forgotten by history, director Brian Vincent captures a side of that celebrated scene never seen before, putting all the rest in context and exploring the nature of fame from an unusual perspective. Cinema has seen plenty of works, both documentary and fiction, on the subject of becoming famous and the destructive effects it can have on people, but there’s a tendency to be unkind to those who fail to make it, and a frequent failure to appreciate that for creative professionals, it’s not just about being starry eyed. Fame puts food on the table. It can make the difference between selling a painting for $15 or $15,000.

Paintings, of course, were not big in the Eighties. The corporate world valued minimalism and high concept, statement pieces. This was unfortunate for Ed, who excelled at nothing else. It’s important not to assume that his lack of success was due to a lack of talent. Vincent, who personally admires his work, shows us enough of it to make that clear, and reflects on the positive things said about it during his lifetime, the opportunities which, for one reason or another, Ed was unable to capitalise on.

It wasn’t that he didn’t put himself out there. There’s a long list of famous and well placed contributors here, and everybody has a story to tell about him – the shows he would put on almost weekly in any space he could find, his constant appearance at other people’s openings, his drinking, his terrible behaviour. We see pictures of buildings where he lived, teetering even then, skeletal structures with missing windows. For a long time he was located opposite a men’s shelter where he found many of his subjects. Whenever he acquired money he would spend it on paints, so he was barely staying out of shelters himself. People recall how he was always hungry. Mingling with some of the biggest names on the planet, he lived the kind of life romantically associated with creative spirits, a sort of latter day Thomas Chatterton. The absence of fame must have felt like an insult, as if the author of his fate had neglected one vital theme.

Of course, there are thousands of Ed Brezinskis out there for every Richard Prince or Willem de Kooning; it’s just the way history is usually written that suggests otherwise. What stands out as remarkable about Ed is how he persisted in spite of everything. As for the end of his story, that’s not entirely clear. After a certain point, memories of seeing him are replaced by memories of rumour. Did he die? Did he fake his death? Did he run away to Europe? The latter part of the film addresses this mystery and attempts to resolve it.

With so much going on, Make Me Famous, which is part of the Newfest 2021 line-up, will hold your attention throughout. It’s a must for art lovers with an interest in the period, and the lively story, developing even as the film is being put together, gives it far wider appeal. Vincent has done an impressive job of sourcing video footage of his obscure subject and as Ed gazes out at the camera, he seems to be appealing directly to the viewer. It’s up to you now.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2021
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A madcap romp through the 1980s NYC art scene amid the colorful career of painter, Edward Brezinski, hell-bent on making it.

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