At the economic level of storytelling HBO‘S great and delightful new documentary seriesPainting with johnStarts with an ingeniously simple and effective little reef. Performers Renaissance man John Lurie– a well-known actor known for his classical work Jim Jarmusch Films, a musician, filmmaker, author, poet and now mostly a painter – who plays, writes, directs and produces the entire company. “Painting With John” immediately deconstructs the myth of Bob Ross, the famously calming and non-Jewish television watercolorist of the 1970s / 1980s who brought the joy of DIY painting to the masses and homes across the country and whose Luries show is most similar on the surface. Not everyone can paint, says Lurie, and gently erases the fable. “It’s a lie.”
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And Lurie’s six-part docu-series is none other than Ross’ show – supposedly intended to teach curious newbies to paint – but it’s educational in its awkward lessons and has a similar calming and hypnotic quality, albeit much deeper, deeper and more but meandering. and funnier. Lurie uses Ross to instantly dispel the idea that this is an analog painting show and sets the stage for absolutely compelling, deep, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes sad, but always exciting stories about his difficult existence and general life.
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As Lurie says, everyone can Painting as a child and then life slowly knocks out the purity of creativity through rules, regulations, guidelines and suffering that hurt and hinder the imagination.
Listen: John Lurie talks to Jim Jarmusch, Conan O’Brien and others on the Hour Plus Podcast Talk about “Fishing with John”
The mileage can vary for a show that seems slow and strange to the outsider. Knowing and enjoying the brilliant mind of John Lurie, a craftsman of the highest order, a racing driver and creative polymath who has jumped around in different fields and has never looked like a tourist dilettante (this new series is also something like a spiritual successor to his strange, absolutely brilliant TV series of the 90s “Fishing with john,“Which you should definitely know, but it’s also a different, more conscious kind of animal).
It is filled with melancholy and devastated wisdom. It is certainly helpful to know the 68-year-old’s backstory. a prolific artist who essentially disappeared in the early 00’s after suffering a series of calamities that befell him, easily suggesting karmic transgressions against the universe. Suffering from a debilitating diagnosis of Lyme disease that made it impossible for him to trade, make music, or create, Lurie endured an excruciating incident of stalking that was written down in an infamous report New Yorker Article that forever made the magazine its despicable bête noire (I don’t dare link to it without further drawing its anger on me). Additionally, during the show, Lurie casually reveals that he also recovered from an unknown cancer diagnosis between 2000 and 2021, two decades when he largely disappeared from the public eye. His outwardly charming show about painting, philosophy, life and more is full of mystery and pain.
Not much of Lurie’s legend is actually mentioned or directly discussed, but it permeates the show and is often naturally referenced. For example, Lurie lives on a remote, small, unknown Caribbean island (it is not known where he lives outside of his friends). The mystery of it all definitely feels down to his stalking incident, which he dances around in conversations about hell and the agonies of fame (a story in particular about the nature of fame and friendship with Anthony Bourdain is heartbreaking).
While the show is superficially funny
funny, with laughing non-sequencing and typically bizarre John Lurie
Stories – he’s hysterical, frankly, but dry in the Sahara – anecdotes and
great stories, it is also subtly imbued with the great sadness of the past twenty
Years have given him in the form of illness and self-imposed imprisonment.
And for all that, “Painting with John” is simply a show about a man telling stories, mostly in his house while he paints (intensely vivid, sometimes nightmarish paintings that would require an additional 1,000 words to correctly describe; although “None of the Trees in my paintings are happy. They are all miserable, “is a pretty apt quote. Sometimes he plays with his aerial camera drone, involves his amiable housekeepers in the wandering stories, and occasionally his inner clown comes out and Lurie goes after outside to play around in something with things like the joy of throwing a tire down a hill and smashing it.
If the setting seems boring and on the surface, you can be sure that Lurie is a magnetic, intense presence with the fascinating gift of Gab. His stories are often random dead ends, some going nowhere, punctuated by absurd humor (one of them) Barry White and a boner is damn good, even unfulfilled), some go long, full of sad feelings and regrets, but always immensely human.
Lurie has the uncanny ability to go from poetic and profound to childish and crazy and back to deep melancholy within an episode or a long thread. He will relate Mighty mouse and then John Coltrane, but perhaps the most important thing is how these two figures are weighted essentially equally because both of them pop up gigantically in his head. After all, both have offered such gigantic joys in his life.
Lurie’s inner child also comes out a lot, both directly in stories about his childhood (some will likely make you cry in their wisdom from his unnaturally kind and sensitive parents from the 1950s) and indirectly through his admiration for the purity of children and The way the mischievous little rascal has not let up in this nearly 70 year old man. Lurie may not tell the viewer to get a little mischief and trouble every day, but it feels understood in the arch of his mischievous eyebrows.
Despite all of his revealing observations about the human condition, discursive accounts and weird, strange folklore, inner color and soulful, deep belly-laughing, “Painting with John” is ultimately for some – for me at least – like the warm hug from a best friend for you Haven’t seen in years and all the spiritual emotions and the baggage that dissolve. With apologies to Mr. Scorsese (although he and Fran get close) and anyone who has published something brilliant so far, John Lurie is back (hopefully he stays?) and has published the most in-depth narrative of 2021 yet. [A+]
“Painting With John” debuts January 22nd on HBO and HBO Max.