Aaron Rose has held many titles in his life: Gallery owner (most notably of the now-defunct Alleged Gallery in New York City), art show curator, writer, publisher. Now, with the release of Beautiful Losers, Rose can add documentarian to that list.
His feature documentary debut highlights a group of once-underground artists, including Thumbsucker director Mike Mills and Harmony Korine (Kids, Mister Lonely), of whom Rose has long been the pseudo-ringleader, giving them numerous opportunities to showcase their work since the early 1990s. With this film he continues his reign as the collective’s pied piper, bringing them together for interviews in which they discuss their own history as they gear up for their touring art exhibition, also titled “Beautiful Losers.”
Shortly before the movie’s theatrical release, Rose spoke with MM about his debut foray into long-form moviemaking.
Andrew Gnerre (MM): Am I right in saying that the documentary started as the film component of the “Beautiful Losers” exhibition?
Aaron Rose (AR): Yes and no.
MM: So what was the idea?
AR: We were actually shooting stuff before there was a “Beautiful Losers” exhibition, but it didn’t really have a set destination yet. Me and my friend Josh [Leonard], the co-director on the film, were shooting with our handheld cameras for a while before we got financing and then when the exhibition happened we said, ‘Oh, this is the perfect opportunity to link it all together.’
MM: So you were essentially just filming some footage of your friends and it just happened.
AR: Exactly. We shot all this stuff on MiniDV and cut it into this little show reel to try to get some financing to turn it into a real film and that happened sort of concurrently with the opening of the exhibition. But the original idea was, ‘Something’s going on here. We should film it.’
MM: Since a feature was never the goal, was there ever a moment when you felt like it was getting out of hand?
AR: [laughs] Yeah.
MM: Because you’d done some short film work before…
AR: Yeah. I worked at MTV. I produced a bunch of short films and on-air promos. So I knew my way around an editing room and all that, but it was always short stuff.
MM: What lessons did you learn about moviemaking during the process?
AR: It’s a lot different making a three- to five-minute piece than it is making an 85-minute piece. We all struggled a lot on: How do we stay true to the art and the message and, at the same time, create a film that is interesting to an audience? A lot of compromises had to be made along the way and those are bitter pills to swallow.
Every filmmaker talks about this, but when you’re going through it it’s really different. You think, ‘They’re ruining the movie!’ But in the end you realize it’s for the greater good.
MM: What was it like trying to form the narrative of the film?
AR: Well it was interesting because we made two versions of this film. The first version that we made was a historical piece that was peppered with personal stories. And it was a cool movie, it just wasn’t a good movie. [laughs] There was no emotional attachment; people found it boring. It didn’t reflect the spirit of the artwork.
We were in post-production in New York for nine months working on it and we basically threw that [version] in the garbage. The entire film.
We left New York because we were running out of money and had to downsize and came out to L.A. We started editing out of a house and flipped the script. We decided we wanted to create a personal film that’s peppered with history.
That’s when the movie started to have a soul and a spirit and in many ways started making itself.
MM: That’s neat that it just started to come together organically.
AR: It was amazing. Clips would just show up on the screen. It was like witchcraft or something. It was really weird. [laughs] We would have these moments where we were like, ‘That wasn’t us. The film just talked to us.’ [laughs]
MM: What kind of message would you want people to take away from the film?
AR: It sounds so generic, but all of us who worked on the film would hope that it would inspire people to follow their dream. No matter what that dream is; whether it’s an artistic dream or a dream to be a plumber. I think that’s what the artists have done.
MM: What do you have coming up? Do you think anymore feature films are in your future?
AR: This is my first long film; I had really no idea how gnarly it was going to be. By the time it’s done and out it’ll be six years of work, so I’m going to need to take a little break just to get my head straight. [laughs]
I do a lot different kinds of stuff; I publish books and do stuff in the museum world and all that, so I couldn’t really see myself becoming some Hollywood director, but I would hope that there’d be a couple more films in me before I go.