A good portrait of an artist that touches on censorship issues, small town life and the last few decades’ gay history, “The Truth or Consequences of Delmas Howe” cuts a fairly wide thematic swath with grace. First feature-length docu from Albequerque-based Matt Sneddon is a thoughtful, well-crafted item that would be a natural for educational broadcasters — if not for the erotic, envelope-pushing nature of Howe’s paintings. Tube placement may be easier overseas; gay and other fests should cotton to the art-as-free-speech gist.
Now 70 years old, Howe is a respected artist who returned some years ago to his peculiarly named hometown, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico — a wild haven of gambling and prostitution for cowboys in his youth, now retaining a certain feistiness with its odd population of ranchers, retirees and eccentrics.
His earlier works were in a folksy American Western art tradition, but more recently Howe has explored images of hypermasculinity with a distinct homoerotic touch. Latest project is “Stations: A Gay Passion,” a large-scale series of male nude tableaux set against the wild-side sexual milieu of the Chelsea Piers in pre-AIDS NYC (where the artist spent the ’60s and ’70s). It deploys iconic references from the biblical Stations of the Cross to create both a hymn to gay spirit and memorial to homosexual oppression.
The agreeable, low-key Howe revisits old haunts in the Big Apple and San Francisco, recalls his western childhood, and chronicles the long fadeout of a lover who died of AIDS.
Pic contextualizes Howe’s work via comments from art critics, gallery owners, and collectors of gay art that historically has often been hidden or destroyed.
Only underdeveloped thread concerns controversy and censorship. We keep being told Howe’s canvases are causing local conservative unrest, but sole evidence offered are repeated interviews with just one homophobic Pentecostal minister.
Somewhat anticlimactic effect toward the end is due to the fact that “Stations” preemed at an S.F. gallery just before 9/11 stirring little interest during the post-catastrophe aftermath. However, seeing the series in its finished form reveals the images’ full, haunting, neo-classical effect, which isn’t always apparent in their (sometimes cheesily sexploitative-looking) in-progress form.
Lensing is above docu average, other tech aspects are polished.