ONLINE EXCLUSIVE – Beautiful Losers

Art doc proves inspiring

In one of Beautiful Losers’ more insightful moments graphic designer and Thumbsucker director Mike Mills compares the mainstream world to the girlfriend who dumped him in high school who he still sort of hates but also wants to impress. Coming from someone who started off in the do-it-yourself New York art scene of the mid-’90s and who now finds himself creating the ads that he used to rebel against the metaphor is apt. The nature of this relationship — the balance between art and commerce — could make for a gripping documentary all on its own but though it’s touched on that’s not what Beautiful Losers is about.

The film focuses on a group of 11 or so artists who all came of age at the Alleged Gallery in New York documenting their rise from obscurity to omnipresence (names like Mills Shepard Fairey and Geoff McFetridge may not be universally known but their work has been incredibly influential in both the commercial and pop art worlds). Co-director Aaron Rose was the founder of the gallery and his close relationship with the artists lends itself to relaxed interviews peppered liberally with words like “rad” and “awesome” — it doesn’t add up to much on the surface. People not familiar with the individual artists will spend a good chunk of the film trying to figure out who is who but when you get down to it the film isn’t really about them either.

In one interview skater and artist Ed Templeton talks about how happy he is to have never lost the urge to draw and to create. Later on Templeton wanders into a rundown park outside the suburbs he grew up in and finds an old rope swing. As he swings eventually tying an abandoned shopping cart to the rope and watching it twist around the film lingers. In that moment Beautiful Losers’ message is clear — it’s not about art galleries or ad agencies or even this particular group of artists. It’s about holding on to the best aspects of childishness and on that front it’s inspirational.