Life has been pointing me towards David Choe lately, and I don’t know why. His name has come up in random conversations and his work seems to be following my every move. When I stumbled across ‘Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe’ in the most unsuspecting place, I decided it was time to listen to the signs and view the documentary which debuted theatrically in early 2010.
One of the biggest challenges with making any film, most specifically with documentary, is maintaining a safe balance between putting too much in and leaving too much out. Friend to Choe, and first time director Harry Kim, does the former, stuffing this 93-minute film with mounds of footage gathered over Choe’s 8-year climb from teenage street writer to thirty-something artist millionaire. The content of the first half offers an intimate and diverse portrait of the artist which is brimming with interviews, new reel footage and animation. It is when we emerge from Choe’s post 3 month jail sentence that the film begins to lose it’s steam and is strung together through a frenetic set of directionless vignettes that buoy from one life change to another. I am an avid supporter of non-linear forms in storytelling yet, regardless of Choe’s manic personality and gritty creative style, a film portrait of any subject needs to have a vision. Here, its later form changes from intimate to spastic, and not in a constrictive way that could echo the disorientation and restless nature of Choe’s work.
There is a silver lining, however. It’s powerful saving grace, is rendered through the endearing and intriguing qualities that David Choe himself presents as he tells his own story. It seems redundant to say that he saved a film about himself by just plain being himself, but it’s true. The charisma he exudes on camera is one that is magnetic, and succeeds in pulling you in to his erratic world. It’s easy to feel an affinity towards him when his sensitive side rips the art world to shreds then his reckless side dangles him from unluck to luck in search of inner peace. If anything what Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe provides is inspiration. David Choe is art rebel who didn’t care about anything which is the exact reason why he got everything.