As a guy with New York City musicians Lou Reed, Television, the Talking Heads, the Velvet Underground and honourary New Yorker David Bowie tattooed on my forearm, I can tell you that I truly love the city that never sleeps. But while I feel that I’m well-versed on a certain time of NYC (specifically the ’70s, CBGB-era), there is so much I’m continually learning about the music and art of the city and its environs over multiple decades. For instance, I’d never heard of the artist Edward Brezinski, but I found his story, told in the new documentary Make Me Famous, incredibly compelling.
Currently making its worldwide debut at Toronto’s Hot Docs, Make Me Famous is directed by Brian Vincent, produced by Heather Spore, and details the life of a struggling artist in the ’80s Lower East Side art world. Considering my lack of awareness of Brezinski and the other artists featured in the film, I was absolutely engaged with Make Me Famous. With its use of rare footage from the era and the artist, a stellar score from Jeremiah Bornfield, and an eclectic cast of real characters, Make Me Famous is part cultural history, part story of a painter desperate for recognition, and even part mystery. It all adds up to a revealing and enticing look at a scene I want to delve deeper into.
If you’re in Toronto, you can order tickets to Make Me Famous here. It screens exclusively at Hot Docs until February 1st. You can read more details about the film below in its press release
Set amid the legendary ‘80s Lower East Side art scene, a forgotten artist with dreams of glory is “restored” in the evocative documentary Make Me Famous.
He shared the hand-to-mouth existence of fellow artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and David Wojnarowicz. But in life, Edward Brezinski was better known for his antics than his art, which is only just now being discovered.
His reputation was such that, when Brezinski died, his obituary dwelled on an incident where he poisoned himself, eating part of an expensive installation called Bag of Donuts that he deemed pretentious.
Make Me Famous, by director Brian Vincent and producer Heather Spore, is a documentary that uses the life of an almost-legend – sneered at by some contemporaries, admired by others – as a springboard for a period in New York’s cultural history when “starving artists” reset the creative bar.
Reflecting the New Wave mentality then playing out in music, they created a community in studios in the city’s then-derelict Lower East Side. With little more than a DIY creative urge and practically no cash, the likes of Julian Schnabel would come home from his restaurant job with broken plates and put them together as a “canvas” for paintings.
Brezinski’s home base, the Magic Gallery, was a decrepit apartment on Third Avenue, across from a men’s shelter. Fellow aspiring artists and gallerists created the beginnings of a “scene” that made some rich and famous, and left others behind.
Through interviews, and hundreds of images – much never before seen, including videos – Make Me Famous examines some of these intangibles through the recollections of some of NYC’s Downtown scene’s most colourful figures. As business entered the picture, were “antics” good marketing?
Actor/monologist Eric Bogosian recalls helping the late Robert Mapplethorpe assemble a sex-fueled gallery launch party, which was packed with revelers, none of whom bought even a single one of his works.
Along with his Neo-Expressionist artworks, the commercially unsuccessful Brezinski left behind a mystery as his legacy. After a time struggling in East Berlin, he ended up in France, where he apparently died in 2007 (in Nice, the authorities initially said). But proof of his death was sketchy, so the filmmakers embark on a journey, based on a rumour, that he may have faked his own death.
Make Me Famous follows Brezinski’s friends and fellow artists, Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger, to France to unearth the truth about what happened to Brezinski.
Richard Hambleton and other artists questioned why director Vincent would make a film about a relative unknown. “Famous people, to me, are talked about ad nauseam,” Vincent says. “Whereas this story is guaranteed to be the only documentary made about it so far.”
“On a personal level, I’m an actor, and I’ve been a struggling actor for 30 years. And so, I can relate to these feelings of not being famous, and questioning whether I’m going to fail in my career.
“I wanted to answer the fundamental question, if I’m still struggling to the day that I die, did I inspire anyone? What will be left of what I did? And then more broadly, it’s interesting to look back and see what was overlooked in art history.
Filmmakers Brian Vincent and Heather Spore are also performers. Brian graduated from Juilliard and Heather was on Broadway in Wicked for 13 years.