Cindy Sherman is an art world superstar who has made photographic portraits of herself since the late 1970s. A master of make-up and prosthetics, she is able to easily shape-shift into a trashy Miami Beach babe, or a moldy, rotting corpse. Her work coincidentally came of age during the feminist art movement, and one of her first and best-known series, Untitled Film Stills, was later acquired by MOMA. Everything Cindy touched turned to gold, but she never gave interviews.
Then came Paul H-O, the producer of GalleryBeat, a public access television show in New York. Paul and his camera became a fixture at New York galleries in the '90s, and Cindy Sherman uncharacteristically took kindly to his request for interviews, studio visits, and eventually dates and co-habitation. But it didn't last.
When I heard that Paul H-O had made a film about life as the constant Guest of Cindy Sherman with his old footage, and that she'd issued a statement saying she wasn't too happy about it, it became an instant must-see. Everyone loves a scandal and some insight into the rarely filmed art world, so naturally I hit The Roxie the day the film came out. Guest of Cindy Sherman turned out to be "all that" and a bag of blue chips. The GalleryBeat footage is priceless; it made an elitist art world accessible during a noteworthy time in the New York scene. Celebrity interviews with other famous "guests" including Elton John's hubby David Furnish, and Mr. Molly Ringwald were also an unexpected surprise. And the icing on the cake -- all-access interviews with the mysterious Cindy Sherman.
Based on rumors about Cindy denouncing the film, one might think Paul was trying to defend himself to the masses by making it, looking for sympathy about his being slighted by the art world because of his famous girlfriend. Every feminist bone in your body will cringe when Paul talks about understanding what it feels like to be "the wife." After seeing it, I went home and wrote, "Terrific movie that proves most men are big babies," on Twitter. Surprisingly, Guest of Cindy Sherman twittered back at me, giving me the perfect opening to track down Paul H-O and ask some lingering questions.
KF: Cindy Sherman fans are surely appreciative of your on-camera interviews with her because she's been so elusive throughout her career. What was your main goal in releasing the film, and how did Cindy feel about it?
H-O: First of all I want to absolve myself of any responsibility, a writ of sorts, a disclaimer because let's face it, there is very little control over life. Ok, I do make decisions but I can't help how they take over my brain. Guest of Cindy Sherman was a real synaptic popper on the anecdotal scale. I already had great material on the 90's art scene in NY. Then I had this situation where these people are blowing a huge wad of dough on a small super-handpicked banquet because they're about to make a huge wad of cash off Cindy's participation. And they know me for years, before Cindy in fact, because of GalleryBeat, and they know we've been living together for years, and they can't get my name on a paper card with human hand calligraphy.
I wrote a monologue, the story of Guest of Cindy Sherman, and performed it in front of a live audience, which sealed the deal on the film. I had to make it. By the way -- she loved it then and cheered it on.
Cindy's opinion of the film came out in the form of an apology and disclaimer she sent to David Kwok, the director of the Tribeca Film Festival, disowning any involvement in the film. David felt that rather than kill the screening (which Cindy hoped would happen), he would print her disclaimer instead. We had, in fact, met our contractual obligations as filmmakers, and Cindy was a major part of the approval process.
KF: Hope you don't mind if I get a little personal -- if you could start over and date Cindy again, would you behave differently? Would you try harder to accept her status in the art world and not let it bother you? Are you still friends with her?
H-O: Well, that is one of those "If I could do it over again" questions which are impossible to answer. BUT, in relationship Make-Believe Land she would have to change, because I never didn't acknowledge her unassailable eminence. How could anyone argue with her status in the art world? It's fairly obvious that I support it, and the film supports that. It's the support system around her that resembles Entourage for the super elite that bothers me. That is why David Furnish, Sir Elton's marriage partner, is so compelling. Elton John is one the few A-list superstars -- now David and Elton are very supportive in public of each other.
KF: Are you working on any other films? Do you still make artwork?
H-O: Since Guest of Cindy Sherman I made a short film about artist L.C. Armstrong. It's literally a process film about L.C. making one giant painting of a dreamy fantastical vision of the Brooklyn Bridge. I am working on a treatment/script about what three Brooklyn artists do to support their art habits. I hope it gets to be a film -- mayhem, murder and moral dilemmas inspired by British television sitcoms.
No, I do not make artwork. Some people think the video/film work is art, but I see it as craft. At least that is my way of seeing what I do. Work. No different than a restaurant owner.
KF: GalleryBeat seemed like a fun show. Have you thought about reviving it?
H-O: We are currently working on an interweb show that is GalleryBeat because there seems to be a demand for it as a result of the film's 13 people that want to see GalleryBeat.
Guest of Cindy Sherman runs through August 13, 2009 at The Roxie in San Francisco. Don't miss it. For information, visit roxie.com.