By Rob Blackwelder
A collage of creative imagery, revealing interviews and jazzy-bluesy brushes on a snare drum provide a pitch-perfect bohemian-improv ambiance for this illuminating look at the life and work of artist Ray Johnson, a true underground hero of the pop art movement.
Perhaps best known for his transitory "motocos" (more or less, informal collages that capture a moment in time) and his trademark image of eerie, hollow-eyed, grafitti-esque bunny heads, this contemporary of Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and John Cage left a lasting impression on the art world (if not on the public) when he committed suicide in 1995 -- in what many of his friends believe was a final performance piece.
The rather convincing evidence for this assertion is a thread used to tie together the documentary's imaginative back-and-forth between biographical background, probing of Johnson's artistic process (his collages are photographed in a way that gives you much more than a straight-on perspective), and conversations with Johnson's friends and admirers. Among them are wrap-happy installation artist Christo, Benday-dot painter Roy Lichtenstein, curator Judith Malina (who quite coherently explains Johnson's so-called "nothing" exhibits) and top-dog literary agent Morton Janklow, one of many patrons who enjoyed Johnson's curious habit of dithering over the price of his work as part of his creative process.
Each provides a piece or two of "Bunny's" increasingly fascinating puzzle. As Dorothy Lichtenstein says, "Other people seemed to specifically be having exhibits or going after shows or doing work. Ray always seemed a lot vaguer."
***1/2 out of ****
(90m | NR)
Deleted scenes, a tour of a Ray Johnson museum collection, and stills of 76 works are included. The commentary track by director John Walter and producer Andrew Moore provides many curious asides about Johnson and insights into their filmmaking choices, but completely fails to explain their connection to, or initial interest in, their subject.
DVD RATING: ***