There’s the piece of art itself: central, maybe in a nice frame or something. Then there’s the doodle on the side. And sometimes, that doodle has more to say than the artist. In the case of Guest of Cindy Sherman, the doodle is Paul Hasegawa-Overacker, better known as “Paul H-O,” the gadfly host of public television’s Gallery Beat, a ’90s-era snarkcast. After a while, Paul became that show’s former host and the current boyfriend of an internationally celebrated art star. Then he became her former boyfriend and the host of nothing.
Guest of Cindy Sherman, as this giddy, deceptively deep self-portrait implies, has less to do with the chameleonic photographer herself than it does the warping auras of competing fame bubbles. Still, there’s more raw, revealing stuff about Sherman (not to mention other artists and their disgusting publicists) than in most examinations. H-O, working with editor Tom Donahue, includes his original interviews with Sherman: charming footage of the artist in her studio, laughing, being coy. It’s the beginning of their courtship. We also go to the Hamptons, cruise on a private plane, and see the transition from his shitty Brooklyn apartment to a multimillion-dollar lifestyle and back.
Ultimately, the doc arrives at a Kaufmanesque notion of identity theft, and while the filmmaker-subject flatters himself as an equal to Sherman, there’s an irony (explored in a public bit of radio therapy) about Paul’s ego being undermined by a professional ghost. With unusual access, Guest of Cindy Sherman talks to other shadow people, like Elton John’s companion, David Furnish, resulting in some painful admissions. Are these just insecure men learning about what women have long dealt with? Perhaps. Not a bad idea to put in a movie.