Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Pee-Wee' Artist-Puppeteer Chronicled in 'Beauty'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Pee-Wee' Artist-Puppeteer Chronicled in 'Beauty'

Article excerpt

You gotta love an artist who constructs a larger-than-lifesize marionette of Lyndon Johnson and walks around in it himself -- not in 1968 but today.

Lots of lovable things about Wayne White are on display in "Beauty Is Embarrassing," a badly titled but delightful documentary of the animation-design genius behind "Pee-wee's Playhouse."

Well, Paul Reubens was the real genius behind Pee-wee. But Wayne White provided the visual flesh and flash of Pee-wee's wacky universe, helping to revolutionize pop art (and pop television) in the process.

Mr. White, a Tennessee mountains child of the '70s, sought his fortune as an underground cartoonist in New York's East Village and found it there just when Mr. Reubens was assembling his first team and looking for a puppeteer. Puppets? Voices? Mr. White could boast no experience but instant mastery of every outrageous thing they needed. Remember Randy and Dirty Dog? Both were Mr. White's creations.

Pee-wee's huge success propelled them all to Hollywood, and Mr. White to other seminal projects with the new MTV formats. Some of the most stunning animated inventions in music videos were his nightmarishly funny characters, wildly colorful and cutting-edge caustic. They were Salvador Dali-surreal -- Monty Python on steroids (or LSD) -- deliberately designed to blow the young audience's minds.

Meanwhile, he was also assembling huge puppets and "junk sculpture" constructions in his studio, turning himself into a performance artist-singer (pounding hamburgers with hammers), and -- finally and currently -- creating his own unique subgenre of "serious" art: word paintings, with sarcastic texts grafted onto Kmart landscapes!

They're very funny (and beautiful), and they've made him a darling of the fine-art gallery world.

First-time documentary director Neil Berkeley has done a fine job of chronicling Mr. White's life and art from his roots ("Tennessee is so beautiful, it hurts my feelings") through the Pee-wee period, with rare behind-the-scenes footage ("It was a clubhouse all day, interrupted by a half-hour of work now and then"), and beyond. The film's production values are beautifully animated, in more ways than one. …

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