(Brian Vincent’s directorial debut Make Me Famous film opened theatrically beginning on June 22nd at The Roxy and New Plaza Cinema in NYC and Laemmle theaters in LA starting 7/11. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)
If you search online for the name Edward Brezinski, chances are that actor Brian Vincent’s directorial debut, the documentary Make Me Famous, will sit atop the results. That’s how little history remembers the man, at least at this juncture. A Neo-Expressionist painter who struggled to make it in the 1980s art scene of New York City, Brezinski—born in 1954—wanted nothing more than to be famous, and couldn’t understand why that honor continuously went to some but not to him. That disappointment soon turned to anger, and though there are those who keep his memory close, he died virtually unknown in France in 2007.
So why make a movie about him? Sometimes we can learn quite a lot about an era by using one person’s story as the primary point of entry. Brezinski, it turns out, is a dynamic guide through the ambitious, cutthroat, desperate, and often hedonistic world of creative strivers from whom certain shining stars achieve success while others never do, with plenty of almost and could-haves in between. His life seemed to brush up against that of more fortunate souls, even if his claim to fame (or infamy), according to the official obituary cited multiple times here, is that he once ate a fake donut in a gallery show by Robert Gober, an artist whose work he protested, given that it was purely conceptual and featured recreated or repurposed everyday objects (including a bag of donuts).
In short, Brezinski was a character, filled with tempestuous emotions and resentments, and a slave to addiction (his was mostly alcohol). He was all that and more, including talented, insofar as we can tell from the examples on display. And even if we doubted that truth, there are copious talking heads in the movie to help us understand Brezinski’s contributions to what was the rapidly evolving taste of the Reagan era, when money and art became especially close bedfellows, propelling the rise of superstars like Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Julian Schnabel and more. If you couldn’t play the game, losing out meant losing big.
Vincent and his wife and co-writer/co-producer Heather Spore have assembled quite the team of Brezinski experts, among them fellow artists and contemporaries Julie Jo Fehrle, Duncan Hannah, Robert Hawkins, David McDermott, Peter McGough, and Walter Robinson, to name but few. There are also art historians such as Joseph Masheck and gallerists like Patti Astor, Sur Rodney Sur, and Annina Nosei, whom Brezinski once both doused with red wine and threatened to kill (those were the days!). It’s a great mix of voices, allowing the narrative to truly come alive.
If Make Me Famous has a flaw, it’s in the often overly brisk editing that leaves viewers with virtually no time to catch their breath between sequences. There is also a tendency to assume knowledge of the universe on display that may, in fact, not be there. But that’s a quibble, for ultimately we are caught up in the mystery of the man (including the riddle of his demise) and the wild and fervent celebration of creativity in all its (granted, often miserable) glory. Ready, set, paint.
– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)
Brian Vincent’; Make Me Famous documentary movie review