Brian Vincent’s fascinating, albeit somewhat chaotic, documentary on the queer East Village painter Ed Brezinski, is a great addition to other profiles of some of his peers that were released recently. Firstly there was Chris McKim’s incisive documentary of the exceptionally talented artist David Wojanarowicz who died of AIDS in 1992 just 37 years old. Then Malia Scharf followed with film on her father the pop artist Kenny Scharf one of the few survivors of that period.
Actually Brezinski desperately shared one of Scharf’s most important aspirations …… he wanted above all to be famous. in Brezinski’s case, it wouldn’t happen until long after his death, although it would never reach the heights of his peers such as Basquiat or Keith Haring as he always longed for.
Born in Detroit, Brezinski studied photography in San Francisco and the moment he graduated he moved to NY where he always thought would /should be home. He lived in a semi-derelict walk-up in the East Village opposite a shelter for homeless men. It was such a desperately tough area that people remarked that they took their lives into their hands every time they visited his studio.
Brezinski was handsome and very charismatic and by using some wonderful archival footage and interviews with some of his surviving contemporaries, Vincent painted a picture of a very likable larger-than-life character. Even the people he managed to really annoy were happy to recount their interactions with Brezinski with a very definite fondness.
Vincent makes little attempt to keep much of the story in any chronological order and instead focuses on almost bombarding us visually with an impressive array of artists, gallerists, and critics. At times it is more than a little overwhelming, but in Vincent’s defense, they are an extraordinary bunch of characters that are (mostly) fascinating in their own right.
Brezinski’s expressionist paintings ….. mainly portraits …. showed remarkable talent, but one that he was never happy with. Several people who sat for him related that the moment he had finished the painting he would immediately destroy it even before they could see it. But they still came back time and time again even though he would continue to tear the finished piece up.
He was a man full of contradictions. Like his apartment maybe be shabby, his clothes were anything but, and he always dressed formally in a suit. He was a friend to many of those who also hung about in all the tiny East Village Galleries that were popping up in the most un-like venues. Yet not afraid to show his temper when he didn’t get his own way, like when a famous Galleist reneged on her promise to visit his studio, so he doused her with red wine the next time they met.
Then the AIDS pandemic ripped its way through the East Village sparing very few. Basquist, Haring, Warhol were just the tip of all the talented souls that were lost. Brezinski who was playing as hard of all of them somehow was safe, and so he upped and left for Europe overnight without saying goodbye to anyone.
The final part of the story is when Vincent had two of Brezinski’s friends accompany him to Cannes where it had been reported he had died. He has lost touch with everyone he ever know so it it took some good amateur detective work to eventually find his grave. He had died alone in 2007 aged 53.
The irony is that the main part of his obituary written in the US paid more attention to an infamous prank he had played in a gallery eating a fake doughnut that was part of an art installation. This was not the fame he had so desperately wanted.
That came in 2017 when MOMA included some of Brezinski’s art in a group show “Club 57 : Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983”. Finally a happy ending,
Vincent’s film may be uneven but the fact he introduces us to Brezinski makes that forgivable. His story is a piece of queer history that should be recorded and shared.
Queerguru reviewed the World premiere at NEWFEST in NY : for future screenings go to https://www.facebook.com/MakeMeFamousMovie