The title of the new documentary Guest of Cindy Sherman is based on a place-card presented to co-director Paul H-O during his stint as the famed photographer’s boyfriend: The film represents his attempt to work through the frustration of being known primarily as somebody else’s plus-one.
The story of how H-O (actually Hagasawa-Overacker) found himself in this role is an unlikely art-circuit Meet Cute: after convincing the famously private Sherman to appear on his low-fi New York cable access show Gallery Beat, H-O found that he was smitten and that the feeling was mutual.
Guest of Cindy Sherman recounts the pair’s budding attraction and subsequent difficulties via the director’s own personal home movie footage. But one voice is notably absent: Despite giving the project her initial blessing, Sherman refused to be interviewed after the fact and has publically stated her disapproval of the film.
“We had a film with a lot more home-movie material, and it was a more intimate portrait in many ways,” explains H-O, who crafted the film over a period of several years with co-director Tom Donahue. “We had to cut stuff, but (Sherman) still had a lot to do with what it looks like now, because we gave her total control of her image.
“She is a very generous person and a very kind person, and at first she encouraged the film because she thought it would help me. I think that she thinks that the film was an act of generosity on her part that got out of control.”
Guest of Cindy Sherman isn’t at all unflattering to its eponymous subject; if anything, her disarming, giggly video interviews with H-O provide a fascinating counterpoint to her legacy of shrewdly manipulated self-portraits.
“The power of (Sherman’s) work lies in its accessibility — she’s like a great magician but she also shows you the strings” says H-O, a self-styled critic whose unpretentious, pseudo-guerilla M.O. during his days on Gallery Beat made him a figure of affection and suspicion among the gallery cognoscenti.
“Certain factions are going to be alienated or offended by (the film),” he says.