The new film “Guest of Cindy Sherman” may just as well have been called “Successful Female Artists and the Boyfriends Who Resent Them.”
In the documentary-style flick, opening Friday, director Paul H-O (which stands for Hasegawa-Overacker) chronicles the pressures of conducting a romance with photographer and filmmaker Sherman under the white-hot halogen lights of New York City’s art scene.
When we first see H-O, he’s a struggling artist and host of a local access cable show, “Art Beat.” With the help of Art in America contributing editor Walter Robinson, H-O gains access to big name artists such as Andres Serrano, Brice Marden and Alex Katz. Still, he says over lunch at the Great Jones Cafe, “interviewing Cindy Sherman would have been a great coup.”
When he and the notoriously shy Sherman finally meet, she agrees, much to his surprise, to submit to a series of interviews that result in a half-hour local access show called “Cindy’s World.”
“She’s this cute, sexy girl,” says H-O, who has a preternaturally young face. “She’s hugely admired and much collected. Cindy was a vessel into which every female artist dropped her hopes and ambitions.” In other words, if women wanted to be Cindy Sherman, then men like H-O, a longtime art-world gadfly, wanted to be with her.
Cut to the film, in which H-O gushes, “I’ve moved in with my girlfriend Cindy, who I love very, very much because she’s the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met in my life.” But it’s not long before H-O, who trades his modest Brooklyn apartment for Sherman’s Manhattan penthouse, begins noticing the inequities of the relationship.
“My best friend, my lover, just doesn’t have the kind of struggles [I have] at all,” he says in the film. “Her lifestyle is so different, and her world is so much bigger than mine. Cindy’s a celebrity. She was going out with Steve Martin when I met her.”
H-O has his own celebrity pals who drop in and out of the movie offering relationship advice — Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Eric Bogosian, Danny DeVito and John Waters among them. When H-O asks David Furnish, Elton John’s partner, how he feels about being “the wife” in the relationship, Furnish replies, “It really did my head in, and I completely lost it. I took it out on Elton.”
Eventually H-O breaks under the weight of Sherman’s stardom and ambition. The final straw is the slight he receives at a party in Sherman’s honor hosted by New York-based gallerist Sean Kelly. As H-O looks for his seat, he watches Kelly lead Sherman to the head table, where he and other A-list artists are seated. When H-O finds his place card, it’s not even addressed to him, but says, “Guest of Cindy Sherman.” “I was sitting next to the date of the lawyer for the gallery,” he tells the camera. “I feel like I’ve sort of been swallowed up by the whole Cindy Sherman thing.”
Eventually, “I couldn’t take playing second fiddle anymore,” H-O says during the interview. “She could tell I was starting to become unhappy with the social situations. We weren’t getting along. I assumed that we were going to get old together. [Instead,] six months after I moved out, she wasn’t talking to me.”
Sherman, who’s now dating musician David Byrne, had approval over the final cut of the film, though she refuses to be a part of its promotion. “She tried to excise our relationship moments,” H-O says. “You know, Cindy’s not very happy about this movie. She feels the movie turned into what she was afraid of, which is revealing too much about her.”