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Make Me Famous review – dirt-dishing study of the glory days of the Lower East Side | Movies

If All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, the recent documentary featuring photographer Nan Goldin, has whetted your appetite for the scuzzy glory days of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1970s and 80s, then this documentary about Edward Brezinski, another artist kicking around the Bowery at the time, will quench that thirst. Interestingly, Goldin is never mentioned in this film, but a few art-world figures such as actor-critic Cookie Mueller and artist David Wojnarowicz overlap both films. No doubt there must have gallery openings or parties where Brezinski and Goldin were in the same room or even met one another, and this work clearly demonstrates that the NYC art scene was a small, almost incestuous circle where nearly everyone slept with everyone, especially before Aids arrived, and they all bitched about each other constantly.

There is indeed a lot of bitching in the early part of Make Me Famous from those who remember Brezinski, a talented, ambitious painter from Michigan who rocked up to the East Village in the late 70s, yet never achieved the fame of contemporaries such as Jean-Michel Basquiat or Keith Haring. Not for lack of trying, it seems. One interviewee here cattily recalls how Brezinski, who ran a tiny gallery out of his own apartment on the sixth floor of a dilapidated building on East 3rd Street opposite a homeless shelter for men, would hand out cards advertising his shows at other people’s openings – a grave violation of the codes of cool.

A few are fonder of him, including artist David McDermott who was Brezinski’s lover. They recollect him as quite charming but a perfectionist, who would get models to sit all day for him while he painted, and then rub out the result if he wasn’t happy with it. For most of his life Brezinski was dirt poor and when he did get money he immediately spent it on oil paint. His work, so much in the tradition of German expressionism that he was later included in a posthumous show at MOMA about American expressionists, is indeed striking but admittedly not outstandingly so. It’s therefore understandable that, when he died in 2007, his obituaries mostly mentioned his great acts of notoriety: eating a doughnut covered in resin that was part of an art work by Robert Gober, and throwing a glass of wine at art dealer Annina Nosei at a party.

Director Brian Vincent and his producer Heather Spore appear on camera as they go in search of Brezinski’s past, accompanied towards the end by charming ageing scenesters Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger who travel with the film-makers to Cannes to see where Edward died, or indeed find out if he’s definitely dead. As a narrative, it gets a bit repetitive by the time we get to France, but the abundance of home video footage from back in the day, and campy dirt-dishing from the interviewees, makes for a touching look at halcyon period in New York history, before the last shabby corners of Manhattan were gentrified beyond all recognition.

Make Me Famous is released on 17 February in UK cinemas.

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Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash