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Monday, August 27, 2012

Dating the World's Most Famous Photographer: Paul H-O's Guest of Cindy Sherman

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 10:54 AM


Probably not coincidentally to the ongoing Cindy Sherman exhibit at SFMOMA, the feature this past Friday night at Oddball Film + Video was the documentary Guest of Cindy Sherman, directed by Paul H-O and Tom Donahue. Though Oddball is SF Weekly's 2012 Best Weekly Film Screening That's Actually on Film, Guest had to be shown on DVD, much to the unfiltered chagrin of Oddball's proprietor, the celluloid loyalist Stephen Parr. The man does not care for the DVD format, and the frequent skipping of the disc bore that out.

But that presentation fit the lo-fi feel of the movie itself, a look at Paul H-O's time as the boyfriend of Cindy Sherman, particularly since neither the relationship nor the movie would have existed if not for H-O's love for the video format and his documentation of the 1990s New York art scene on his public access show GalleryBeat. (Yay for public access! We here at the Exhibitionist love public access.)

Their early flirtation is captured on GalleryBeat, and Sherman has a disarmingly Judy Greer-like quality to her.

As they become a couple and her star continues to rise, Sherman appears in front of H-O's camera less and less, and the main emotional arc of the film concerns his troubles with his identity being subsumed as Sherman's often nameless partner. Eventually they break up (um, spoiler?), and though H-O started working on the movie while they were still together, it's unclear what part the movie played in the breakup, if any.

And while it's a fascinating look at a relationship destroyed by fame -- though Sherman, who has disassociated herself from the film, would no doubt have a different but equally valid story to tell about what went down -- Guest of Cindy Sherman is possibly more valuable as an examination of the New York art scene's corruption by money over the past couple decades.

Cindy Sherman's career is also shown as something of an antidote to the dominance of male artists in the New York art scene of the 1980s, of people such as future Johnny Mnemonic director Robert Longo and especially Julian Schnabel, who comes across as an utter nozzle on GalleryBeat. (Paul H-O was present at the screening, and in the Q&A after the screening, he refused to further dis Schnabel. Or Sherman, for that matter.)

Both within the film and without, much of the examination of their relationship and H-O's feelings about being reduced to little more than Sherman's anonymous guest is done in terms of gender dynamics and role reversals and such -- he's become the "wife," et cetera. Which is a perfectly valid vector for discourse, sure, but this kind of tension is far more universal. It's not only applicable to men and women and those roles they play in straight society.

When one member of a same-sex couple is more well-known than the other -- even if it's on the microscopic, practically nonexistent level of fame found within a tiny subculture like the San Francisco lit scene about five years ago -- there can still be a kind of stress over being regarded as nothing more than the other person's partner. (So a friend once told me, anyhow. I'm totally not speaking from personal experience or anything.)

Guest of Cindy Sherman is available on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, and on a DVD that probably won't skip. Check it out.

Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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