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In Praise of Mister Weirdo

by Sean O'Toole / 26.02.2010

“These are your names: Mr. Brown, Mr. White… Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue… Mr. Orange and Mr. Pink.”
“Why am I Mr. Pink?”
“Because you’re a faggot! All right?”

By all accounts Steve Buscemi, a former fire-fighter with New York’s Engine 55, got off lightly when he was christened Mr. Pink in Quentin Tarantino’s tomato-sauce masterpiece, Reservoir Dogs. Over the years Mr. Pink has played a bizarre range of characters whose names offer an entrée into Buscemi’s talent for off-beat weird: Test Tube, Aldolpho Rollo, Willy ‘the Weasel’ Wilhelm, Mister Shhh, Garland ‘The Marietta Mangler’ Greene, Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos and Templeton the Rat. Don’t forget Seymour, the sad record collector in Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 filmic adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Ghost World, which co-starred a somewhat unconvincing Scarlett Johansson.

“I’m just like all the rest of these pathetic collector losers,” offers Buscemi.
“No, you’re not. You’re a cool guy, Seymour.”
“Then how come I haven’t had a girlfriend in four years?”

(By the way, if you like Ghost World and are curious about what else Clowes has written, check out, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, a sweaty, surreal story serialised in his early 1990s comic book Eightball. This illustrated novella is David Lynch weird and includes a cast of evil weirdoes, pervy fetishists and the odd blob that could double as a prop in Michael MacGarry’s new exhibition at Brodie/Stevenson.)

Michael MacGarry
Michael MacGarry, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, 2010, Pigmented urethane, quartz crystal, taxidermied Vervet Monkey, epoxy, cotton.
* the work’s title is a direct quote of Luis Buñuel’s 1972 film of the same

Buscemi’s leftfield bent owes greatly to his background; he was shaped by the energy and momentum that defined the early 1980s downtown scene in New York. His cohorts included the composer and actor John Lurie, then a member the Lounge Lizards and later a contributor to Buscemi’s first feature, also the director Jim Jarmusch, who at the time was a vocalist with the artsy No Wave band The Del-Byzanteens and later cast Buscemi in the role of Charlie the Barber in his deadpan ode to Elvis, Mystery Train from 1989. Starring alongside The Clash’s Joe Strummer, Buscemi’s role in this episodic, laconic film Handling a Gun.

Guns infer criminality, which implies a courtyard surrounded by high walls guarded by men wielding rifles, cinematically at least. Asked, in 2001, what his survival strategy would be if he went to prison, Buscemi revealed a comic touch that is also part of his repertoire: “I’d start singing He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands and hope that people would think I was psychotic enough not to mess with.” His answer could have easily come out of the mouth of Carl Showalter, the dislikeable whiner Buscemi played in the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning movie Fargo (1996). Speaking of Oscars… well let’s not. Buscemi has only been nominated for a Golden Globe, once.

About the opening photo: made in 2004 by Robert Wilson, it is technically a “video portrait”. An icon of the theatre world, a couple of years ago Wilson started filming celebrities posing still in front of a video camera, kind of like what Sue Williamson did in her Better Lives series from 2003, in which the Cape Town artist asked a variety of African migrants living in Cape Town to stand still in front of a video camera.

Sue Williamson
Sue Williamson, Better lives: Nelson Manuel, 2003, 144 x 112cm, film still

“Sometimes, when we’re very, very still, we’re more aware of movement than when we make a lot of movement outwardly,” says Wilson, whose photo of Buscemi appears in Art Cinema (Taschen), a new book exploring the development and history of film as art. The book also includes work by cult experimenters like Stan Brakhage, legends like Jean-Luc Godard, and Luis Buñuel (both explicitly referenced in MacGarry’s new show) as well as one-of-a-kind originals like to Michael Snow. Adds Wilson: “So these portraits are exploring this inner movement. It’s about a way of listening inside.”

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