Overview: ‘Portray With John’ Teaches the Artwork of Dwelling
The title of HBO’s “Portray With John” is a little bit of a misnomer. Sure, there may be portray. And there may be John — John Lurie, the multi-hyphenate creator and performer who moved on to visible artwork from music and performing years in the past, after, he says, contracting Lyme illness.
However “with”? Within the six-episode collection, which begins Friday, you’ll watch Lurie paint. You’ll hear him ruminate about portray and his life earlier than it, and no matter else crosses his thoughts. For those who additionally need to paint, properly, that’s your name. However don’t get your hopes up. “Bob Ross was incorrect,” Lurie says, attending to a watercolor within the first episode. “All people can’t paint.”
Bob Ross this isn’t. That is no quarantine-friendly, enjoyable tutorial about self-expression as self-care. (“Not one of the bushes in my work are pleased,” he says in one other reference to the public-TV artwork teacher. “They’re all depressing.”)
“Portray With John” is one other form of creation altogether: a hypnotic, meandering, surreality-TV stroll into the knotty jungle of Lurie’s thoughts that explores dwelling as an artwork type in itself.
The collection, written and directed by Lurie and soundtracked along with his music, opens with an overhead shot of the greenery surrounding his Caribbean island residence. The viewer sails above the verdant cover, shifting nearer, nearer, too shut, till the digicam drone that Lurie is piloting crashes right into a tree.
The opening is a metaphor for the collection, which is a component tutorial, half autobiographical video essay. You’ll be taught a couple of issues about Lurie and his artistic course of, and you might achieve some perspective on the fantastic thing about creation, nevertheless it is not going to be a straight flight or a clean experience.
“Portray” is a kind of religious successor to “Fishing With John,” Lurie’s bizarro outside present from 1991 (now accessible by the Criterion Assortment). There, the nonexpert angler Lurie took to the water with film- and music-world buddies like Jim Jarmusch and Tom Waits, as a deadpan narrator spun absurdist commentary. (“How deep is the ocean? No person actually is aware of for positive.”) Extra vibes had been caught than fish.
“Portray” doesn’t have the identical parodic tone as “Fishing,” possibly as a result of, three a long time later, it may’t. In 1991, a yr after the premiere of “Twin Peaks,” it may nonetheless seem to be an astonishing subversion that one thing so surreal and unlikely as a downtown hipster’s information to fishing may make it on the air.
Within the streaming, everyone-gets-a-show period, that would appear totally believable. Simply final yr, HBO aired “How To With John Wilson,” a comic book D.I.Y. information that exposed itself as a humorous however profound reflection on the ache for connection. As we speak, a present like “Portray” may be — most likely must be — unwinkingly what it’s.
And who Lurie is, in spite of everything, has modified, too. Within the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties, as a founding father of the art-jazz band the Lounge Lizards and a star of indie movies like Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” he was an avatar of downtown New York cool, with a long-faced noir charisma and a trademark fedora.
Now, years after shifting to his island residence, he’s a grizzled artwork dude, stalking the grounds with a Gandalf employees and a weathered depth that he each owns and mocks. “My well mannered smile frightens folks,” he says as he debates tips on how to open the present, then grins to show it. “Portray” doesn’t have the ironic detachment of “Fishing,” however it may nonetheless giggle at itself.
There may be an apparent story arc that “Portray” may have adopted: artist experiences celeb, is derailed by sickness, finds new function in seclusion and a extra meditative artwork type. The collection follows that arc, however backward. Solely within the final episode does Lurie speak at size about having to surrender performing, realizing that portray “may very well be what music was.”
As an alternative, he approaches the topic in circles, with a collection of shaggy-dog tales and reminiscences. He remembers rising up along with his brother, Evan, who turned his bandmate within the Lounge Lizards. He remembers how tough fame may very well be for his good friend Anthony Bourdain. He chases a hen that’s winged its approach into his home.
He spins tales in regards to the folks he’s met in his new residence, relates private theories — he doesn’t belief anybody with out a full giggle — and will get a bit misplaced in his reminiscences. “We went to see that James Franco ‘Planet of the Apes’ film the place he has to chop off his personal arm to get away,” he says, then stops himself. “Possibly I’m mixing up two films.”
All of the whereas, he paints, delicately spreading tendrils of coloration because the digicam attends to his brush strokes so intently which you could see the pigment sink into the paper.
Lurie isn’t educating portray. However he’s educating one thing. Persistence, function, attentiveness to your interior voice. It might appear rambling or self-indulgent at occasions. However the digressions are the purpose. The present, which at six half-hour episodes doesn’t overstay its welcome, is like an apprenticeship with a crotchety bohemian Yoda.
As for the portray itself, by the season’s finish, Lurie appears to rethink what he mentioned within the first episode. Go forward and paint, he says. “You’re gonna stink in the beginning,” he provides, however that’s high-quality.
“Simply put the paint on the paper and see what you’ve,” he says. “It’s actually value it. It’s higher than watching TV.” Although when you’re going to look at one thing, you may do worse than this.
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