For a woman made famous by using her own image in her art, Cindy Sherman‘s actual image has been somewhat of a mystery over the years. Friends and colleagues call Sherman a private and shy person, so when fans like myself discovered a documentary would give us unprecedented access into the artist’s life, it was voyeurism we could get into.
Unfortunately, the artist herself wants nothing to do with it.>
As far as conceptual photographers go, it’s hard to find anyone as famous as Cindy Sherman. Her work has been lauded as a feminist response to stereotypical portrayals of women in mainstream pop culture, and she has never been afraid of using lots of makeup and props to create sometimes disturbing and always powerful photographs.
Former boyfriend and co-director of the documentary Guest of Cindy Sherman, Paul Hasegawa-Overacker (aka Paul H-O, blames his inability to handle that fame for the end of their five-year relationship. But all was not lost: His intimate relationship with Sherman enabled him to make a film that takes viewers closer to Sherman than she previously has allowed.
The documentary features Sherman herself, along with other New York art-world staples and interviews with John Waters, Molly Ringwald, Danny DeVito, Jeanne Tripplehorn and many more, who discuss not only the culture of celebrity in the art world, but the toll having a famous partner can take on a relationship.
Here’s the trailer:
I am intrigued to see more, but also cautious. Sherman, who was involved at the film’s inception, issued a statement distancing herself from the film before its screening at the Tribeca Film Festival:
As my name is in the title and my work and self are so abundantly represented, I would like to counter any assumption that I am or wish to be personally associated with it. I am not a participant in any events related to the film’s screenings in this festival or future presentations. I apologize to all those who participated, thinking they were doing me a favor in giving interviews and otherwise assisting in the fabrication of this film. Against my better judgment, it was clearly unwise to cooperate with the project at its inception.
So, what happened? Well, Paul H-O told Salont hat Cindy wanted more control over the project, and was being advised against participating from the start. He also said that going through with it has cost him:
This film has caused a lot of problems for me and for people in the art world who may have something to do with the film and are worried about what the effect is going to be. I’ve been excommunicated, basically, from that whole level of the art world.
What bothered me in clips was Paul’s apparent jealousy of Sherman’s success, and his discomfort with the shadow cast by his famous girlfriend. He reiterated this issue in a Salon interview:
It’s just that my identity went into hibernation or was subsumed by this much greater force. That’s why I called it “Cindy World.”
Paul, who for years hosted the popular New York public access show Gallery Beat, became known for explaining art and talking to artists in a way the regular, reality-television-loving public can relate to. What also sells me on the doc are the interviews with celebrities’ non-famous significant others, like Elton John‘s companion, David Furnish.
As much as Paul H-O’s fragile ego is annoying, the access and all-star cast of characters has been getting pretty rave reviews. Time Out New York said Paul “brings the art world of the ’80s and ’90s down to an accessible level for those relatively unfamiliar with it. And while the story is based around art, it is also a love story.”
So, maybe Cindy isn’t too keen on her life being out there for the world to see. Unfortunately, I’m just too curious not to check this film out.