Title: Scoop Perlman’s Guide to Art
Studio: Prolefeed Studios
Length: ~80 Minutes
Documentaries about visual artists are a hit or miss proposition, especially when the subject of the documentary is not a household name. Heck, even a documentary on Picasso would no doubt fail miserably at the box office. However, for those who love art or the human psyche there is no better subject than the artist.
Artists tend to lean left of center and in many cases to the point of metal disability. There is indeed a fine line between genius and insanity. Scoop Perlman and Prolefeed Studios have successfully captured the work and personalities of 5 Wisconsin artists who walk this fine line on the DVD release Scoop Perlman’s Guide to Art.
The artists chosen for each of the four short films that make up this collection offer a glimpse into the fire of creative passion. You won’t find any Thomas Kinkade reproductions or middle class homemakers with a painting hobby here. What you will find is art in its purest form as created by outsiders.
Scoop Perlman’s Guide to Art contains four 20 minute episodes, all feature a different artist and their work. The large-in-stature, but gentle-in-spirit Scoop Perlman hosts it. Scoop’s an imposing, but likable figure with a bald head and a long white beard. He takes a laid-back approach to interviewing his subjects, which works well with the eccentric type. Mr. Perlman was able to effectively get the artists highlighted to open up and give us a peak into his or her world.
The first episode on the disc features artist Tom Every, now known simply as “Dr. Evermore”, who has transformed his industrial savage yard into an alternate universe filled with creatures great and small. Dinosaurs, robots, insects and the massive “Forevertron” spacecraft are all constructed out of scrap metal, junk and paint. The most fascinating thing about the artist, besides the massive amount of work he has produced over the years, is they way he talks about it. The sentences that spill out of his mouth lead you to believe that he’s not quite right in the head. When he talks about his “Overlord Master Control” or the “Juggernutter”, which is a sculpture that will launch peanuts 60 ft. via cannons to the hungry throngs, you can’t help but be sucked into the far out world he has created. Howard Finster immediately comes to mind when listening to Dr. Evermore speak and while looking at his version of Finster’s “Paradise Garden”. This is a man completely consumed with creating and it was my favorite piece on the DVD.
The second episode is also a glimpse into the eccentric mind of an artist obsessed. Nadine Mercil is a 40-something mid-westerner and admitted alcoholic who constructs dark art objects peppered with disturbing imagery. Dolls, small toys, scrabble letters, religious icons, cake decorations and other small objects are Elmer-glued into various melancholy pieces. She uses letters to spell out sexual and violent phrases in the art that truly shock, especially when juxtaposed against religious icons and baby dolls. Even though she admits desiring fame you really get the sense that this is not an act to create controversy, but an artist who truly has issues and is confronting the dark side of herself through the constructions she creates. Nadine, like Dr. Evermore, is completely engulfed within a world created by her own mind.
The third episode follows Rob Em and Taggerboy, who are two traditional graffiti artists, as they paint a legal mural on the side of a cafe. Although I am a huge fan of street art this was the least interesting of the 4 episodes. Scoop gives proper mention to Keith Haring and Basquiat during the interview and to my surprise the artists not only knew who they were, but referred to them as the “grandfathers”. However, the work was typical and boring without any ideas beyond the quest to be noticed. The artists did not come off as being consumed by their own ideas as the others featured here did. So although interesting and worth your time this was the “dog” of the set.
The fourth and final episode features painter Phil Porter who does thick, colorful landscapes of downtown Madison, Wi. Most of them with multiple suns shining in the sky. Phil definitely exists in his own little world and has developed his own iconography, which makes the work instantly compelling. He talks about how his Grandfather was the architect on the State Capitol building, but you never learn if this is true. All the artists featured float on the edge of reality, so you never really know if what you are hearing is true or an illusion. It would have been much improved if some real research had been done and shared. Explaining some grey areas and fact checking could have brought these documentaries to a whole new level.
As it stands the subject matter is excellent and the independent style works pretty well with the theme. Just be aware that this is basically one camera and an interviewer going out into the community to capture artists in their element. As such, it lacks quality. For example, many times the subjects and the art itself is not properly lit and impossible to see. This is rather annoying and needs to be improved upon. The sound was ok. Subtitles were provided, but at times they get completely lost with the background.
If you are willing to deal with the amateur look and feel of Scoop Perlman’s Guide to Art you will be rewarded with a view of some true creative spirits.