In 2006, installation/performance artist Brock Enright was commissioned to mount a show at the Perry Rubenstein Gallery in New York, so he hit the road with his video equipment, his girlfriend Kirsten Deirup, and filmmaker Jody Lee Lipes (a cinematographer who has lensed some of the best-looking indie dramas and documentaries of the last five years), and set out to make some of the controversial, confrontational art for which he’s known. Mostly, this amounted to Enright and Deirup donning makeup and creepy costumes and staging scenes of make-believe violence and/or actual degradation. Deirup, Enright, and scattered friends and relations spent weeks firing guns, wrestling in the mud, yelling obscenities, and building a wooden platform so they could shit on it, all on camera. Between working hours, Enright and his girlfriend argued about money, their future together, and his creative process, almost as though the ferocity of Enright’s art was spilling over into his personal life.
Or was it? Lipes’ documentary Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be The Same emphasizes the ambiguity in an artist’s life, especially when the artist is as big a self-promoter as Enright. Is the similarity between the “fake” scenes of Deirup yelling phrases like “Fuck you, you piece of shit!” into Enright’s camera and the “real” scenes of the two of them bickering merely a natural case of life imitating art? Or is it more of an unnatural case, with Enright and Deirup treating Lipes’ cameras as an extension of their art project? The real problem with Never Be The Same is that the question of what’s real and what isn’t—or even what’s art and what isn’t—is less compelling than Lipes may presume. Enright’s behavior becomes more outrageous as his deadline approaches, and Never Be The Same becomes more frustrating to watch, because his behavior—faked or not—is insufferable. And Lipes’ “twist” ending, which forgoes reactions to the gallery show in favor of a different kind of creative endeavor, proves more forced than poignant.
Still, Lipes’ skill as a cinematographer gives the film a cinematic sheen that’s rare for a low-budget doc, and though much about Enright remains dubious, it’s hard to deny that his work has an eerie power that lingers after the documentary is over. If only Lipes had focused more on the practicalities of Enright’s show, like how it costs almost as much to make as what he’s going to get in return, and how the show gets priced, and how Enright and his friends sometimes can’t help but laugh at their own ridiculousness. Those fleeting moments are more insightful in their naturalness than any navel-gazing conversations about the meaning of art, or any quasi-real screaming matches. Ultimately, it just isn’t that fun to watch an artist brood. It’s much better to catch him in a moment of bizarre inspiration, directing his girlfriend on how to move for the camera by blurting out, “Now do it fast, like you’re a guy fucking a pumpkin!”
Key features: Samples of Enright’s genuinely disturbing video-loops, an hour’s worth of his as-yet-unfinished feature-length film, and an insufferably backslapping interview between Enright and visual artist Robert Longo.