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Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish 

Wednesday, Aug 19 2015
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If you reported for jury duty at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco before 2013, you likely noticed the red neon signs for Barrish Bail Bonds across the street. Its former proprietor is the subject of William Farley's documentaryPlastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish, and Barrish's exploits as a bondsman are one of the more fascinating, if sadly underexplored, elements of that life. The film's framing device concerns Barrish's evocative sculptures, made primarily from plastic refuse found on the beach in Pacifica and elsewhere. The mainstream art world applauded his efforts, but wouldn't actually display his work in their shiny white galleries — because found plastic is, well, kind of tacky. It's all interesting stuff — especially the fact that Barrish's work comes from his heart (and unlike so much Bay Area art, isn't created to be schlepped out to the Nevada desert). But much of Barrish's life is worth further examination. For example, he provided bail to counterculture figures his fellow bondsmen wouldn't touch, such as Black Panthers Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton and porn actress Marilyn Chambers, while his time in the indie filmmaking trenches led Wim Wenders to cast him as the American film director in Wings of Desire. The 74-minutePlastic Manbecomes that rarest of works: a documentary that could stand to be longer.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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