R.I.P. Rest in Pieces: A Portrait of Joe Coleman

New York shock art painter and performance artist Joe Coleman, whose act includes biting off and occasionally eating the heads of live mice while wired with explosives, is examined in Austrian filmmaker Robert-Adrian Pejo's "R.I.P. Rest in Pieces." An engrossing but fairly superficial encounter that fails to get as close to the artist as a film like Terry Zwigoff's far superior "Crumb," this haphazardly structured docuportrait should reap some fest and TV exposure nonetheless, thanks to its scabrous subject. One of Coleman's evangelical sermons introduces his apocalyptic world view, which maintains that disease, drugs, sexual deviation and murder are necessary manifestations of the need for population control; that hate, death and warfare are encouraged by nature to keep the tumor of mankind in check. His art is viewed as a pathological attempt to transcend and dominate death, his fascination with physical and spiritual corruption interpreted as an offshoot of his Catholicism.

With:
With: Joe Coleman, Hasil Adkins, Bill Coleman, Katharine Gates, Dian Hanson, Jim Jarmusch, Manuel De Landa, Nancy Pivar, Harold Schechter, Martin Wilner.

The film touches on Coleman’s influences, from Tod Browning’s film “Freaks,” to sideshow deformity displays, to Harry Houdini’s escape acts and the dark morality of film noirs such as “Gun Crazy” and “Nightmare Alley.” His paintings depicting death, pain and carnage in meticulous, quasi-religious detail are like ghoulish contemporary revisitations of the style of Bosch or Bruegel.

Interviews with Coleman, his brother and his former wife and girlfriend, among others, shed some light on the psyche behind the macabre creations by way of his experience with heroin or his childhood growing up opposite a cemetery with a drunken, war-mongering father. But the acquaintance remains a fragmentary one; Pejo never pulls back to reveal a more complete psychological picture of his subject. Nor does he link Coleman in any way to his immediate environment, despite a series of highly composed views of New York locations.

The film’s most grating element is the use of jokey conversations between Coleman and indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch in a church, which serve no purpose other than one of gratuitously increasing the cool factor.

R.I.P. Rest in Pieces: A Portrait of Joe Coleman

Austrian

Production: A Prisma Film production with support of the Austrian Film Institute and ORF. (International sales: Austrian Film Commission, Vienna.) Produced by Michael Seeber, Heinz Stussak. Directed by Robert-Adrian Pejo. Screenplay, Walt Michelson.

Crew: Camera (color), Wolfgang Lehner; editor, Pejo; music, Hasil Adkins, Charlie Feathers, Link Wray, Wanda Jackson; sound (Dolby), Nils Petersen; line producer, Florian Michel. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival, Feb. 3, 1997. Running time: 91 MIN. (English dialogue)

With: With: Joe Coleman, Hasil Adkins, Bill Coleman, Katharine Gates, Dian Hanson, Jim Jarmusch, Manuel De Landa, Nancy Pivar, Harold Schechter, Martin Wilner.

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