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Well not really, its all pretty much drawn out for you. This film is a
very solid documentary about Ray Johnson an underground artist from NY,
that never grew in popularity as his peers from the scene. The film
presupposes that the "mysterious death" was not "mysterious" at all but
in fact was really something that could be considered his final
performance. The film is extremely linear in that sense. We get a quick
summary of his childhood, we get a quick peek at the NY scene, and we
get hints throughout the film how he loved the idea of messages in a
bottle, or things associated with water and floating. So yes, you
pretty quickly build up a theory he committed suicide and that it was a
performance. The film is so absolute that their is not even a hint of
doubt in anyone interviewed that his death was an accident or foul
play, that the idea of this film being about solving his death, is
misleading. (Which I personally was annoyed at because I misjudged what
the jacket description considered the arch of the film, not the
directors fault, but I was still tossed by that for a minute).
The true arch of the film is also a bit shallow, "Who was Ray Johnson?" This question is answered in the first lines of the film. Friends, Gallery owners and even mailmen knew a little bit of him, but when pondering the question, everyone realizes no one really knew who the man really was. After reiterating this point again and again, we finally come to the closest realization (From I believe Billy Name) when he says, "To try and separate the man and the art is impossible when talking about Ray Johnson". Not a direct quote, but something to that effect. Ray was art, and what he did was not a creation of art but art itself. This of course then concludes the big question, "Was his death a performance?" This answer again is pretty self explanatory.
This film is a good look at an artist and does a good job at detailing a man's life, but in relation to the elements that surrounded this man, we are left a bit shallow. We interview famous people from the art world, but the film never dives deeply into the art scene, or for that matter anything.
There is nothing wrong with a film that stays directly on its subject and this film exceedingly does that well, but if you wanted to learn more about the art scene, this is a good film to pick up AFTER you have learned about the scene from other sources. This film only allows you to put faces to all the artists you have heard or read about before.
I do recommend this film on the basis that you get a strong solid film, but do not be misled to feel that this film is revelatory in any such way.
"How to Draw a Bunny" is a documentary about Raymond Johnson, an
eccentric modern artist (isn't that a redundancy?), whose suicide by
drowning in early 1995 was thought by many to have been his final and
most grandiose act of "performance art." Famous for his trademark
"bunny" signature, Johnson made his name primarily as a producer of
abstract paintings and collages built on iconic images from the pop
culture world around him.
The film provides a generous sampling of Johnson's work, along with interviews with counterculture friends and supporters who often seem more bizarre and "out there" than Johnson himself reportedly was - although in the few video clips we see of Johnson, he really does seem to be operating in his own little different-drummer world. However, one of the problems with choosing Johnson as the subject of a documentary is that he was so innately reticent about himself that it was hard even for people who were close to him to get to know who he really was. Interviewee after interviewee makes this point about him, and yet these were the people who actually knew him! How much more difficult is it for us then - who didn't know him at all or knew him strictly through the work of his we saw and admired - to find out who he was. Thus, right from the get-go, the film faces self-imposed limits on just how revelatory it can end up being. In a similar way, despite all the words uttered about the works themselves by the people being interviewed, the film offers us surprisingly little analysis of the artwork's underlying significance and "meaning." As one of the women interviewed tells us, she never really understood what Raymond was trying to say through his works; she just enjoyed the thrill of experiencing them. And, perhaps, that is the best way to approach "How to Draw a Bunny" itself. Don't go into it expecting a deep and profound examination of all that it is showing us; just enjoy the artwork for its own intrinsic value and sake. That's probably the way Johnson would have wanted it anyway.
I had no idea what this documentary was about going in, but a week after watching it, the movie and the artist at its core, Ray Johnson, still haunt me. This is a movie about a person who really had no real life or essence except his art and his ideals. People in his life tell stories about him to try to piece together who he really was and what his life was all about. I don't know that there's ever been an artist or person like Ray Johnson. The curator of his art show says she feels totally "manipulated" by him. Like he left clues so she would know exactly what to do. After you see the film, you may feel as I do, that the film makers made exactly the film Ray Johnson would have wanted. Very spooky in parts, and utterly fascinating. It's practically a who's who of the pop art world.
This is the story of Ray Johnson, a contemporary artist who's work reaches back from the 1940's till the time of his death in 1995. Johnson was at the forefront of performance art and created correspondence art along with Fluxus in the 1960's. There are many who contend that correspondence art was a precursor to the internet philosophically. His performance art pieces were essentially koans or Buddhist exercises in illustrating zen. How To Draw A Bunny is also about Ray Johnson the work of art, as his life itself was one great performance piece who's details were only connected posthumously. Fascinating both as a portrait of an artist and an era in modern art, the film is a must-see for anyone with an open mind and an interest in the path.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Any reviewer who reviews a movie about an artist and uses the term
"artsy fartsy" shouldn't be trusted--except, of course, by those who
find such a term enlightening. I am not particularly artistic, but I
respect artistic people, those who see things differently-- perhaps
idealistically, as engaged with the rest of nature and humanity,
through a psychological/sociological/political/etc. prism that uniquely
underscores the basis of things. (It is very hard to define what art
"does"!) At any rate, Ray Johnson is one such person, and How to Draw a
Bunny is one such film. The movie, at least temporarily, lifts the
viewer out of the mundane world of tabloidization and banal politics
and consumerism, shakes him (or her) up, rearranges him, however
slightly, in his view of himself and the world.
In this way, this film, like all good art, works something like magic. The viewer doesn't necessarily feel "better" about the world, but the visual abilities have changed for the better, thus improving one's sense of those things that actually matter in life (as opposed to those that don't, such as points of view that use clichés such as "artsy fartsy.") I'm not sure Johnson is exactly likable. Were he my acquaintance, I might feel more dismayed than friendly toward the guy. But I like the way he sees things and helps me see things. The film, well shot and superbly edited, is actually framed as a sort of mystery: why and how did Johnson die? We don't get a complete answer, but the journey is fascinating. This film would, by the way, make a good companion piece with the Andy Goldsworthy movie. Both are about unconventional nonconformists who do things their way, with fascinating results.
It is obvious his suicide was planned and it was a work of art. It
seems so. I had to watch this film for a abnormal psych class and i'm
supposed to determine the diagnosis for this guy, this is something
that Ray Johnson himself would probably love, because he's see it as a
game, and he was constantly playing games, loving playing games, always
living in a game.. i guess, from seeing the film. When he was younger I
don't know if he was like this, he seemed to develop this was of being
after being in the art game? for a while. He is a very lovable
character, a real character.. "a pure spirit," "incorruptable"..
according to one of his former lovers and artist friend of many years.
It seems no one really knew him well in the film except for this one
man. I guess if you want to get to know Ray Johnson, you can talk to
him. But, mostly you can refer to the messages in his art. Like the
message in a bottle and then a body in the water.. it can tell a story.
What is so remarkable to me is that he is willing to die for this to be his life.. you reap what you sow seems a banal comment to make on this.. he was .. art. so he died as a part.
playing a part.
another deadly da da ist joke.
when he set up his house as a studio highly organized work space
As mentioned in the movie, Ray Johnson may have been, "The most famous artist that you've never heard of." I've seen a large collection of his work first hand, in fact, as I've learned it could have been the largest show of his work prior to his death. Johnson, among may other things, was about duality, in the review prior to mine, the reviewer gave the film a poor review. If one is not inclined to enjoy or understand the subtleties of conceptual art, then by all means this is not the DVD for you. However, Johnson occupies a position in the art of the 50's and 60's that is important and this film shows his relevance as detailed by other "greats" of the day. Nothing was ever at face value in Johnson or his work. Each piece presents layers of meanings through images that continue to give. I wholeheartedly recommend this film. There is a great deal of "extra" content. For the searcher looking from answers about his art, this is the best place to begin. For the working "Mail Artist" is revered as the documentary of the artist who "started it all". Enigmatic, yes...but Johnson made himself his own work of art. This movie reveals more about him in a short period of time than any other source. Two great books are also available about his life and work. I gave this a full TEN stars. I have watched it repeatedly and and will view it many other times. Very well put together with an interesting soundtrack.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I can imagine someone unsympathetic to this this particular scene of
artists viewing this film about Ray Johnson and finding it slightly
self-absorbed and immature, however, I enjoyed watching it.
The opening of the film runs like a prime time local news investigative report, right before the weather segment. As the film progressed, I found my mind sinking deeper into the story of this guy that I had initially never heard of. The music changed from straight ahead brush work by drummer Max Roach to more ambient music, somewhat across between Bill Frissel and John Cage as one was confronted with photographs of both the artist and his work.
Johnson, in photographs of his youth, contains a look of intense, loving, and innocent obsession, the realization of which is brought home towards the end of the film.
His work is a kaleidescope of colors and ideas, as varied as it is numerous. His method of putting his work out may appeal to an anarchist mentality as does the entire film which is also appreciated for its disclosure of beauty that one may not have known about otherwise, which is a shame. Overall, the subject sticks in one's mind more than the film itself, which I suppose is a credit to its craft. It is very fortunate that this film has been made and is readily available in many rental stores. I recommend taking advantage of it.
This documentary provides a much different angle on the presentation of subject, and this is what makes it exciting. That we cannot ever know Johnson, especially in light of the fact that he has committed suicide, makes the entire exercise all the more intriguing. Interview after interview evinces an all-too-rare character study of someone who simply did not want to be known. The art of this concealment builds to an exhilaratingly creepy conclusion that will be familiar to anyone who has been affected by suicide. How can we think we know someone who commits this unthinkable act? The segments regarding Johnson's rope-a-dope art dealings and coyness about capital is worth the price of admission alone. His influence is everywhere in the art world to this day, and yet few will remember him.
Although I am an artist, I hadn't ever even heard of Ray Johnson until
I stumbled upon this movie on the Sundance Channel. What a treat. It's
interviews with people who "knew" Johnson - I don't think anybody
really knew him.
He was very eccentric, e.g., if he was mad at you and you called him, he'd put the phone down without hanging up and go about his business - the caller could hear him moving around in the background. After some time - always varying - he'd pick up the phone, say "hello" and things would go on as if nothing had ever happened.
He really invented "mail art", sending collages to friends. He made up cost lists for his paintings, offering reductions if he cut part of the drawing/painting out.
I loved this film.
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