New York City art shows have never been my thing. Ego stroking a malnourished 142-pound-guy who puts together slabs of piping and claims that's his way of protesting the war in Iraq, isn't how I want to be spending my nights. By no means do I think I'm some manly construction foreman who has a strict diet of GNC protein shakes before breakfast, but something about giving Machinist look-a-likes attention has to go against the laws of nature somehow. It's like a Planet of the Apes What-If sequel where an army of James Francos took down Cesar's empire.
This is why when I found out Billy Bates would feature an urban artist the first thing I thought was "great." I figured I'd be spending two hours watching a character who thought he was a genius like the guy who locked Marnie inside his TV sculpture in Girls.
By the time the screening was over all my preconceived notions were put to rest. I related to the character of Billy Bates a hell of a lot more than I would've expected. The artist, Bates, represented the minds of all us male and female creators. The types of people who have the audacity to take what is in their heads (basically be an unconnected-to-the-hive-mind sort of human) and place it on a pad or canvas. It showed self-loathing, masturbating, sex, art, and oh yeah, more self-loathing. It was the Joy of Painting if the Joy of Painting involved a Bob Ross sex tape.
Self-loathing was a recurring theme in the flick about the fictional Bates. His work surrounded him but despite that, he could never be satisfied with his accomplishments no matter how great they were. During one of Bates' exhibits he yelled a few unkind things at his paintings. The way he scorned his work on the wall you would think he was going back and forth with a trash talking blueberry-green-tea-shit come to life. (A shit whose anger clearly stems from a combination of living as shit, and sliding down a wall while people in the room stand around horrified while also wondering how it got there.)
What showed the self-loathing hell Bates puts himself through best was the apartment he lived in . It was a single room where all four walls and the ceiling were covered in a mural he put together. Bates couldn't stand 800x600 sized paintings of his own on. How he survived a living a space he transformed into his own work of art must have been like inviting the devil into your house to watch a marathon of Ben Affleck movies (I love Ben by the way. Don't get it twisted Bat-fans!) For sure he must have constantly nitpicked how every inch could have been put together better.
That kind of uneasiness for my own work is something I struggle with. Just today someone told me they knew another writer. The first thing I said was, "I'm sure they're better." It wasn't a joke. I haven't read anything of this particular person's and I already rank them ten spots above me.
This is why whenever a movie paints such a sweet little picture of self-loathing I sit in awe. Even though it's a work of fiction it instantly makes me feel a little better to know there's a shared space for the rest of the lazy artists such as myself who can't will himself to grow up and find real jobs.
Of course, if you do have a normal nine to five and you're wondering why anybody would be around something that makes them so uneasy you wouldn't understand the self torture unless you yourself were bitten by the radioactive creative spider.
Another thing I was happy to see was how male-craziness was treated in this movie. Usually when the man is a little cuckoo in movies, they do drastic things like hold a woman hostage until Ryan Reynolds dressed in a Green Lantern costume swoops in and saves the day. In Billy Bates, Bates just sat around and made things harder in disagreements. He didn't hurt anybody.
The scene I'm referencing to in particular took place right before a sex scene. Before he and a woman he met at an art show went to bed, Bates had a mini meltdown. By the end of his psychological bend the woman essentially asked if it was "okay" for them to continue being around each other. After that there was no axe murdering. She wasn’t flung through a window. She just knew she was going to have to put up with his imbalance.
That brought me back to a fight I had a month ago with my girlfriend. She told me "We aren't allowed to move on with anything unless Joe is okay." She broke the fourth wall and used my name so I know she was frustrated with my insanity. The thing is, she's right. Watching the woman wait for Bates to get his shit together so they could move on is one of my usual moves in disagreements. (Who the hell puts up with that? You women are crazy.)
I've been waiting so long to see male craziness portrayed so boringly! That's how it really is so thank you Billy Bates!
It's the Wu-Tang equivalent of being drafted by the Asian community or black people watching Obama win in 2008. All us crazy guys do is make disagreements harder than they should be. There are no beheadings, ever. (That sort of action requires work and most of us are really too lazy to do it - as enticing as it sometimes is. The clean up and the trial and then the jail just aren't worth it.)
Billy Bates is a fine movie even if you aren't into the art community. I'm the sort of person who loves Scorsese flicks and for this to stick out to me says something. I back seeing the insanity of a boy who had shitty parents and took it out on the world.
Make sure to catch when you can!