d. Aaron Rose & Joshua Leonard / 2008 / USA / 89 mins
An interesting, if rather slight, contemporary art documentary, Beautiful Losers introduces a diverse group of artists/filmmakers/agitators who coalesced around the Alleged Gallery on New York’s Lower East Side in the early 1990s. Co-directed by Aaron Rose, who also ran the gallery itself, the film traces the lives, loves and careers of the Alleged gang, from graphic and street artists like Geoff McFetridge, Thomas Campbell, Stephen ‘ESPO’ Powers, Barry ‘Twist’ McGee, Shepard Fairey, skateboarder Ed Templeton and the late Margaret Kilgallen, to filmmakers and photographers like Cheryl Dunn, Mike Mills and Harmony Korine.
And as something of a Korine fan, I was obviously most intrigued by his appearance, with Beautiful Losers featuring what seemed to be excerpts from his abandoned Fight Harm project (for which he was filmed picking fights with random strangers on the streets of New York) but were only credited as excerpts from early, unedited shorts. The interview scenes with Korine in Nashville are also some of the most entertaining in the film (along with anything featuring the ever-enlightening Ed Templeton), even if they do seem susceptible to Korine’s propensity for hyperbole and myth.
Also interesting, particularly considering my previous assessment of No Age, New York (1993) – which provides a similar, if slightly rougher portrayal of an earlier generation of NYC artists and filmmakers – is a great quote from Stephen Powers which more or less sums up my views on NYC as a locus of successive cultural movements. Relating a story about the first time he visited Manhattan, Powers recalls seeing a burnt out police car in the street and flaming trash cans in the notorious Tompkins Square Park, deciding that this was the place for him:
The only reason I stay here is this place is a great platform…it’s a really great mountaintop to yell your message from.
Like Tompkins Square Park itself, however, despite managing to maintain most of its integrity, much of the Alleged movement became somewhat gentrified, moving away from its street roots and assuming a place in the mainstream of independent arts culture. And in some senses the slick, fairly straightforward nature of Beautiful Losers reflects this perfectly. Thankfully, the history of Alleged remains unchanged, having burned briefly but brightly as a creative beacon in the urban wastelands of a pre- (and early-) Giuliani Lower East Side.