Earlier this month, I headed to Austin for my first SXSW festival. I attended both the interactive and film portions of the festival, and found myself quickly overwhelmed by all the panels, conversations and parties that transform this college town into a creative mecca every March. I kept thinking, if I were ten years younger, I would be in heaven right now. My twenty-something self would have fit right in with the crowd attending this year’s festival. The interactive crowd, in particular, was flamboyantly dressed, friendly, intelligent and passionate about the Web. By Saturday, I knew I had to pace my thirty-something self, or I would find myself slumped over my keyboard twittering ZZZzzz’s to the world.

from Beautiful LosersTrying to hit the right balance between the frenetic pace of the interactive offerings and the (somewhat) slower pace of the film fest, I headed to the movies on Sunday to see the doc that piqued my personal interest the most. Beautiful Losers had its world premiere in Austin to a nearly packed house at the Paramount Theater on Congress Street. The film by Aaron Ross and Joshua Leonard was billed as a “collective portrait of ten artists” who sparked the “most influential cultural movement of our generation.”

The artists documented included some favorites of mine — Margaret Kilgallen, Barry McGee, Mike Mills, Shepard Fairey — and others I wasn’t as familiar with, so I was very excited to learn more about the early days of the D-I-Y movement, their inspiration and the story of how they became who they are today in the art world.

Margaret Kilgallen drawing on the side of a train

Margaret Kilgallen visits the San Francisco train yards to show art she’s found on the side of trains that inspired her in the past, and adds her own.

The film is beautifully shot and moves pretty quickly from artist to artist — ten artists are a lot to cover in 91 minutes — and hits it’s stride about 15 minutes in, telling the story of this group of artists who started showing their work at the Alleged art gallery that the filmmaker, Aaron Rose, opened in the 1990s in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The artists are self-deprecating and have a dark sense of humor that result in several laugh out loud moments. Harmony Korine and Chris Johansson were particularly funny, talking about their lives and their art, and what they are trying to communicate through their films and paintings.

I found “Beautiful Losers” thouroughly entertaining. I learned a lot about the early work of artists that I became familiar with only after they became famous, like Thumbsucker filmmaker Mike Mills, who directed beautiful and fun music videos for bands like Air and one of my favorite 90s bands, Papas Fritas, and Shepard Fairey, infamous for his “Obey Giant” campaign in the early 90s.

I wish that the film delved a little deeper into some of the themes and topics explored, particularly the commercialism of the work, and their attitudes about that. The one instance that stood out for me as unsatisfying was when Geoff McFettridge talked about the Oneify ad campaign that he did for Pepsi One. He said that he was worried that his friends would think he sold out, but that that wasn’t the case at all: everyone he spoke to afterwards thought it was “rad.” Really? Everyone? I was expecting a little more discussion about the commodification of art, and the current state of the art world, particularly with Shepard Fairey and Stephen Powers in the mix, but that didn’t happen.

A lot of the sequences that featured Margaret Kilgallen and Barry McGee were recycled from the Art 21 episode that featured their work, but it was still wonderful to see their work writ large on the big screen. If “Beautiful Losers” makes its way to a local screen in your town, check it out. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer and learn more about the film at its official website.

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