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  • Warning: Spoilers
    I first met Marilyn Monroe on the sound stage of 'Some Like It Hot'. My Dad was Production Designer of the movie and it was just the way he did things to take me to the studios with him. Only recently did it occur to me that I never - but once - saw any other children 'on set'.

    On this occasion they were filming one of the train sequences - my Dad had reconstructed a sleeper train carriage. Marilyn was standing ready to go on...arms just out from her hips flicking her hands back and forth - maybe an actor's trick to loose the nerves - we were a little bit away from the carriage...and standing not far from us was Arthur Miller waiting for M.

    My father had I guess talked with him before and said something to him then introduced me to him saying "Arthur I'd like you to meet my daughter Jann...she want's to become a writer..." Miller looked at me and said, "What have you written?" I thought he meant what had I published or something...and a bit confused by the question I pulled out the word...

    "Nothing..." "You'll never be a writer then," he said dismissively.

    It was just like that.

    Marilyn was pregnant at the time. My father said that is why she looked so beautiful in the movie. She miscarried he said sometime during the shoot.

    When I first saw the trailer for 'Waiting for Hockney' I didn't file it with my MM memories - it seemed to be its own story. I loved the insanity of the whole project. The impossible task that the artist Billy Pappas set himself; and the idea of making a documentary about an 8 year project...the crazy idea that a young man today could find a 'patron' to fund his art quest in the 21st century.

    When I saw a 'sneak preview' screening of the film in Salt Lake City, however, I discovered that what the film does is to take this story into amazing and unexpected territory. The first part brings out the eccentric and 'FABULOUS' (in all capital letters as Billy's Svengali Larry Link would say) process where Billy finds out the limitations of the photographic image. He was working from an Avedon photo of MM and photo lenses were not, are not, as crisp as the eye's focused perception. So Billy had to look at real flesh, real lipstick on lips, real hair in a curl...so he used his mother, sister, himself, Victoria's secret blow up photos...to 'see'. So MM became every women - every man.

    I loved this. Goddess became mortal. She is mortal in Avedon's photo but not as mortal as in Billy's version of her.

    The second part ups the ante...The getting to Hockney...meeting him (in 'still shot' form, interestingly drawing us into comparing him with MM: Gods are photographed never real.) and Billy's conviction that 'He's the one' as Billy's mom Cookie says...he's the one to validate 8 years of Billy's life - his masterpiece or folly.

    What is on the table is the old chestnut: 'Is it Art?' Billy's image of Marilyn is not just 'the photograph' or a work of art (or not) – as the photograph is – the photo has the beauty and the pain - his drawing has something more. The image has been consumed by the eye, the mind and the hand - put though a body and pulled out like a baby in forceps - painfully. Billy's Marilyn is like Edvard Munch's Scream. The pain – the Everywoman is there and The Scream is there silent as the Munch but NOT depicted. It's even more searing than the Munch because it is in the eyes...the skin...the whole of the image spills pain.

    And the message...the above is enough...but there is something else that speaks to all of us that fight with the devil 'art' - whether it is on the stage, in film, on canvas, or other: Who will tell us that what we do is valid? I've lived my life in art......I can tell you it is not the critic, the art historian...or even 'the great' artist, who is able to tell us. We won't find a 'father' figure for confirmation that what we do is GOOD, or ART. Or tell us: 'You are a writer'...The knowing comes from inside not outside. It comes from the shock of looking at something you made and not knowing how you did it and from the insatiable drive, the obsession and passion to make the thing your mind sees happen in the world.

    The film tells this story.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I appreciate an 'issues' documentary as much as the next person, but frankly I think I've seen enough docs about Iraq, election frauds, and other Bush administration fiascos. So, based on what I'd heard about 'Waiting For Hockney', which was described as a 'poignant comedy', it sounded like a nice change of pace. I have to say, I wasn't disappointed at all.

    The film tells the story of Billy Pappas, a nearly 40 year old working-class guy from Baltimore. Billy's been to art school, but he finds himself stuck working as a waiter in a restaurant. When a weirdo named Larry Link shows up for dinner one night, they strike up an odd friendship. Link is an architect who clearly appreciates artistic talent, but he also seems weirdly enamored with Billy and his naivete, as well as his artistic capabilities. Billy, looking for a mentor, quickly falls under Link's spell. Soon, they are scheming together about how - as Link dares Billy - to 'reinvent realism' by doing some new, extraordinary work of art. And soon enough, Billy undertakes the painstaking recreation of a photographic image (I won't say who or what... suffice it to say it's a famous face) in an attempt to bring the subject to life in his portrait, with his style. And that style consists of painstaking work... meaning that Billy works by making thousands and thousands of tiny, microscopic marks on a small piece of paper. He works all day and - here's the kicker - in order to actually complete the thing, he works this way for almost ten friggin' years! Talk about needing a life...

    Anyway, when he finally finishes, he and Link... and by now he's added more strango's to his cabal - an inarticulate priest, a fairly credible museum director, Link's wife (who takes photographs of everything) - this group now decides that there's only one person in the world who can declare Billy's work ground-breaking (and maybe help him get a second commission for real money). The person they go after is artist David Hockney, who they describe as a 'rock star'. And so, the chase begins, and this is where the story starts to really take off as a caper, full of great/crazy characters and a seemingly-unattainable object of desire in Hockney. Team Billy tries to get Hockney to pay attention, maybe even to meet with Billy and to bless his work. I won't spoil any more of the plot, but think 'American Movie' meets 'Pollock'...

    Before I forget, all of this 'action' is complemented soooo well with scenes of Billy with his family, a rambling ethnic bunch from Baltimore. Especially memorable is Billy's mom, Cookie, who as much as states that Billy is still her little kid... she doesn't want anything to change him, not even success. It's hard to be neutral about a character like Cookie, a doting mother, and I think every mother in the audience could in some way relate to her. For that matter, everyone in the audience with a mother ;-) will respond to Cookie as either the mother of the year or the smother of the year...

    First-time director Julie Checkoway has made a remarkable 'un-documentary', a film that plays more like a dramatic/comedic feature than a talking-head issues doc. But through great structure, pacing and editing to convey the complexities of the story, a judicious use of archival materials like photos and old movies, and with the complement of great music, Checkoway takes the audience on a ride and allows them to see and hear the 'issues' that Billy's dream and pursuit embody, but through their own world view. Sure, the director seems to have a point of view, but you'll form your own opinion. This is the kind of movie that you will not be able to stop thinking or talking about at coffee after the show... and for days afterward. Not only, "What is art?" or "Who gets to decide what art is?", but also, "Who gets to say that what you do in life is valid, or worthy?"

    This is a film for anyone who's ever had a dream or thought of or tried to do something outside of themselves. A great film that will just not allow you to leave these and other questions unexamined.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I had the opportunity to see the Canadian premiere of 'Waiting For Hockney' here in Toronto at Hot Docs in April. Despite the fact that it was at the end of the festival and there was a transit strike looming, the Bloor cinema was packed for what was billed as one of the most eagerly-anticipated films on the schedule. First-time director Julie Checkoway was on-hand for some Q&A, but briefly introduced the film with the caveat that what we were about to see was NOT a mockumentary, ie, that it was about real people in real situations, even if it might seem a scripted enactment.

    Well, let me just say that this warning served me well, because this wonderful film was populated with characters that were almost too good to be true. Nearly everyone in this film is an uber-character in the flesh, stereotypical and extreme – whether in the display of a respect-worthy passion or a laughable lunacy. At the center of the film is the character Billy Pappas, an attractive, articulate, passionate Everyman from Baltimore. The story is ostensibly about his ten-year effort to create a breakthrough kind of art in the form of a hyper-real portrait. Once completed, he (and the rest of the motley crew of characters supporting/enabling him) endeavors to get an audience with famed British artist David Hockney, whom they believe (on the basis of some 'mystical' misreadings of Hockney's theories about photography, optics and art) is the one person in the universe who might validate Billy's work and consequently help propel him and his art career forward past his middle class roots to fame and fortune. So, without giving too much away, the film follows Billy et al through this journey, and raises the ultimate questions about how one or all of us might struggle and eventually resolve the need for achievement recognition and validation.

    But back to the characters, because even though this somewhat convoluted tale of quest and windmill-tilting has been marvelously pieced together and delivered by Checkoway, taking the audience on a very enjoyable, almost-voyueristic ride, as I said before it is really the denizens of this world that make it so memorable. Billy's mother, Cookie Pappas, was my favorite, loving (coddling?) Billy almost to a fault, worrying, fussing, supporting, baking – the tagline of the film is 'Art. Ambition. Poppyseed Cake.'… well, Cookie's contribution to the Hockney pursuit includes a gift to the artist of her 'famous' poppyseed cake… sent as the sweetly naïve sweetener that might evoke Hockney's own close relationship with his mother. Hard not to love Cookie Pappas… It was equally hard for me not to dislike the character Larry Link, Billy's mentor and art patron. This was a man who obviously had his own agenda and Rasputin-like hold on Billy. (But even this guy isn't the 'villain' in the story… that dishonor falls to another great character – Hockney's former assistant.) But for whatever reason, this Link guy, drawn by Checkoway almost as the unctuous puppetmaster, made my skin crawl every time he came on the screen.

    I felt kind of sorry for Billy's high school principal, the priest Brother Rene, who seems to be playing the role of the village vicar in this drama, along for the ride for … God only knows why. (Brother Rene DOES carry the poppyseed cake… perhaps that is his purpose here…) But this character, though only appearing briefly, offers moments of comic relief through his struggle to say anything meaningful (knowingly on camera) through his thick Baltimore accent.

    There are more characters that will make you laugh and cry at 'Waiting For Hockney' – friends, family, pets, hangers-on… but there's also a 'spirit' character who makes frequent appearances in this film, one who actually plays a central role in the story and who's life and reputation serve as an elegaic, echoing commentary on Billy's pursuit of celebrity and fame. But enough said… I won't spoil it for others by revealing who that is here.

    Suffice it to say, a Hot Docs audience can be tough, but the crowd at the Bloor all seemed to genuinely love this film and responded positively and enthusiastically, naturally peppering director Checkoway with questions in the Q&A, many about the great characters she'd discovered and presented so well to us.

    I strongly recommend this great film - an enjoyable, bittersweet and funny slice of life so richly inhabited (remember: NOT a mockumentary!) and amazingly well-presented by a first-time director.
  • The documentary follows artist Billy Pappas and his entourage of advocates on a journey to meet with prolific artist David Hockney. For whose opinion Billy anxiously awaits, believing Hockney to be in some capacity the catalyst agent for the sale of the drawing and/or the furtherance of his career.

    First time writer, director Julie Checkoway delivers a well constructed film. The palatable soundtrack hints at emotions but leaves you to draw your own conclusions about Billy Pappas, about David Hockney, about art and about life.

    Whether you adore or resent the artist, admire or pity him, after viewing the film Waiting for Hockney, you will consider him.
  • wwbaker30 August 2008
    I loved this film. At times it was hard to imagine that this feature length film is really a documentary. The characters are vivid, wild and eccentric. The film centers around Billy Pappas, a young man from a working class family who sets out to create the next new movement in the art world, spending nearly ten years of his young life making one pencil drawn portrait. With a support group that includes an eccentric mentor, a priest and the world's most loving mother, among others, Billy decides that there is only one person who can truly appreciate and validate his creation and that person is the famous artist/painter/photographer/art historian, David Hockney.

    So many contemporary and important issues are addressed in this film such as "what is art?", "who can judge the value of art?" and "who can determine if an endeavor is worthwhile?".

    The film tells this story beautifully using much more than the usual "talking heads" of many documentaries. The music, archival film and footage of Billy's daily life provides an engaging pace and plenty to keep the viewer actively involved as the story unfolds. I do not want to give away any of the suspense of the film, but suffice to say that I had just the right mix of anticipation and fulfillment that I needed to keep me thoroughly attentive throughout the film.

    I was lucky enough to attend a screening of this film in May 2008 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Why do I say lucky? Well the film's "star", Billy Pappas, attended the screening and he along with the film's director, Julie Checkoway and her producer/brother all answered questions at the end of the screening. It was so much fun to see and hear it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Ever spend several months on a project at work and wait for the approval of your boss' boss? Well, Billy Pappas has you beat!

    He spent 10 years on a small painstaking pencil portrait, doing nothing else for 10 hours a day, and bet all his marbles that one person in the world would approve. No, not approve – but make him famous!

    First time director Julie Checkoway excellently captures Billy's struggle over several years in Waiting for Hockney. The story is paced so we get to know Billy today and how he got this way. How he got out of bed each day to make just a few deliberate marks with his meticulously sharpened pencil. How he attracted some weird characters around him to also help him swing at windmills. And how the meeting and judgment with Hockney came out in the end.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Waiting for Hockney far beyond learning how Billy ticks. His mother Cookie who dotes on her 30-something boy. The impresario Larry Link pulling Billy's strings. Someone in the audience asked into the air "where did they get these actors?" only to be reminded that this is a documentary and these are real folks – with memorable lines that you swear came off a script page.

    You'll laugh and cringe at Billy studying hair and lips to draw them so precisely. You'll cry at Cookie's love for her son and worry that fame will change and spoil him. I even got an important clue from her specifically-worded note to Hockney where Billy gets his exactitude. And you'll scratch your head at the cast of hangers-on.

    In the end, you'll wonder if Billy will "win". You'll want to see the portrait in person, as I had a chance after the April screening in Baltimore. And then all the film's characters walked out of the darkened screening room in the flesh as if they'd just stepped off the screen. "They really do exist!" as the M&M and Santa Claus say to each other in that commercial.

    And you'll think about who you allow to judge you and why any of us give away that control. This film will make you feel and think. See it!
  • thetreacleman24 December 2008
    Warning: Spoilers
    An excellent debut film. What I most liked about this film was the attitude of the film-maker towards her subject. It never treated him as a joke or patronised him. American Movie, explores a similar vein but the tone could not be more different.

    The artist in 'Waiting' confuses time and effort with the production of great art. Great Art, is often a sketch dashed off in a few seconds. However, behind the hand is a lifetime of toil. Our protagonist takes a lifetime to produce one piece of art. He never seems to consider that at such a rate his entire oeuvre would boil down to four pictures. Still his journey to Hockney is hugely entertaining. We might be amused by his naivety, but it seems much preferable to the snide assistant of Hockney, oozing self satisfaction or the utterances of Mr Links. At the end, it seems that our hero, has returned to drawing, thankfully with more alacrity. I would love to know how he felt about the film, with Hockney's critique pretty clear in it. Maybe someone who was at the Q and A could say. A gentle documentary, refreshingly engaged with its hero.