Party crasher/painter Richard Osterweil’s monologue provides off-beat entertainment in the autobiographical portrait film “Painting the Town.” Specialized audiences will get a kick out of this droll character’s curious lifestyle.
With receding hairline and soft, ingratiating voice, 39-year-old Osterweil resembles a non-singing Art Garfunkel, calmly relating his 15 years ofsneaking into celebrity funerals, parties and premieres.
He states that the reason he came to New York was to see celebrities. Result is close-up encounters with celebs like Katharine Hepburn and Princess Grace.
Osterweil supports himself as a cab driver and in odd jobs like coat check person at a restaurant (he tries on all the celebrity coats), alloting himself $ 6 daily for food while painting hundreds of canvases, mainly pastiche.
Reciting the list of numerous big-name funerals he’s attended, from Andy Warhol to William Paley, Osterweil claims his is not a morbid interest but rather an attempt to become a part of history.
Actually, he resembles Warhol in the need to be always on the scene, though his paintings are not innovative and hardly set to propel him to the first-rank celebrity status Warhol achieved.
Using “Gone With the Wind” as his model for behavior, Osterweil’s vicarious existence comes through identifying with women, haunted by their glamor and even trying on their garments. He almost takes on the pathos of the Harlem fantasy-dressers and female impersonators in Jennie Livingston’s documentary “Paris Is Burning,” a life lived second-hand pressing up to thrill at standing next to the rich and famous.
Filmmakers Andrew Behar and Sara Sackner keep things simple by merely photographing Osterweil’s spiel, though the film would have benefitted from testimony from his friends, adversaries or hard-won socialite friends, such as Mrs. Samuel Peabody, who is the subject of many of his paintings.
A cop-out end credit notes that Osterweil’s remarks are “loosely based on the life and fantasies of Richard Osterweil,” and there is ample evidence of his embroidering on the facts.
In sum he emerges as sort of an unpaid journalist, forging or sneaking his way into events and then writing them up in his diary rather than a gossip or society column. Like many in the media, he grades the soirees according to the quality of food served (or lack thereof) but his gee-whiz anecdotes fail to impart the dreariness of many of the events cited.
Presumably the danger of crossing class barriers and crashing society makes it all worthwhile.