Punch-Drunk Cinéphilia:
A Review of Evan McIntyre’s
Paintings at Sharab Lounge

By Charles H. Meyer

Tense fantasies of male empowerment strut just beneath the brightly colored surfaces of Comme Çi, Comme Ça, Evan McIntyre’s recent painting exhibition at Volta Coffee.  Based on photographs of actors and screen captures from movies, the paintings consist of two groups: two hand-painted oil replicas of shots from the movie Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) realize McIntyre’s wish “to see some of my favorite scenes on canvas,” while four acrylic-on-poster-board portraits present icons of tough-guy acting.  Uniting the two series is an obsession with a kind of cinema we might term masculinist, consisting of movies, directors and actors who, especially since the women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, have attempted to reaffirm white male power in response to the first major challenges to that power.  If the closing of the American frontier inspired the Western, then the emancipation of women inspired movies like Punch Drunk Love and Fight Club, which attempt to instruct the postmodern white male in his efforts to renegotiate a masculinity that is no longer self-evidently valid, much less authoritative.  Whether consciously or not, McIntyre has produced a body of paintings that, in precisely quoting certain movie imagery and quasi-religiously depicting certain movie actors, reinforces white male desires for power and the cinematic, directorial and histrionic efforts to address them. The formal means by which McIntyre has created these images is crucial to their effectiveness.  The scene paintings not only employ the same hard-edged David Hockney-esque Southern California style and pastel palette as Anderson’s movie, but also, in their 4’ x 3’ scale, mimic the approximate size of the large flat-screen televisions that have become increasingly popular.  The more intimately scaled 21” x 27” portraits render their subjects in grids of large pixels that, to varying degrees, result in a simplifying, abstracting style of figural representation that we might compare to that employed in Byzantine icon paintings of the Madonna and Child.

Indeed, as stars, the actors depicted in these portraits are gods of the movie world.  But which gods are they?  Like sliding tile puzzles, with McIntyre helpfully solving one for us, these pixelated portraits challenge us to piece together their subjects’ identities, their enigmatic titles providing the only clues to unlocking their riddles.  Is that Gary Oldman or Christian Bale?  Gene Hackman or Robert Loggia?  Anthony Hopkins or George Carlin?  Only Christopher Walken is unmistakable, lending a certain redundancy to his portrait’s title, Mr. Walken.  For those unable to guess who’s who, the four portraits might suggest a quartet of Hollywood archetypes: the old aggressive goateed businessman, the wise old dangerous mystic, the young impulsive trigger-happy rebel, and, of course, the scary/cool persona of the one-man archetype that is Walken.  But for those who share McIntyre’s movie tastes, three of the portraits’ titles conjure specific performances and roles, the knowledge of which instantly unlocks the actors’ identities.  Thus, McIntyre winks to the movie-obsessed minority aware that “Ev-ery-one!” is shouted by Gary Oldman in staccato at a critical moment in The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994), that “Tonight, I’m Gonna Kill the Mother…” is what Anthony Hopkins’s character announces when he resolves to kill the mama bear in The Edge (Lee Tamahori, 1997) and that “Popeye” is the nickname of Gene Hackman’s character in The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971).

But the title Popeye also links the portraits to the scene paintings by alluding, however tangentially, to Punch Drunk Love’s borrowing of the song “He Needs Me” from the movie musical Popeye (Robert Altman, 1980).  Anderson’s use of the song elaborates Punch Drunk Love’s theme: just as Popeye needs his “goil” Olive Oil and gets strength from spinach, Punch Drunk Love’s protagonist Barry needs Lena and gets strength from pudding, or rather from the thousands of Healthy Choice pudding proof-of-purchase points he exchanges for a lifetime supply of airlines miles.

But although Barry’s bourgeois pudding-power seems to be Anderson’s cynical parody of Popeye’s proletarian spinach-power, Lena’s love is what really gives Barry his Popeye-like strength, enabling him to single-handedly disarm the three hired thugs who terrorize the couple.  Barry’s psychoanalytically revealing assertion, “I have a love in my life.  It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine,” marks Punch Drunk Love’s turning point, his acquiring of Lena and the airline miles giving him the power and mobility he needs to overcome the castrating many-tentacled grip of his octopus-like tangle of meddling sisters (which, in Popeye, manifests itself as an actual octopus).

This declaration of empowerment is also the title of one of McIntyre’s two Punch Drunk Love-inspired paintings, one that reproduces a filmic moment previously used as the cover for both the movie soundtrack and for an edition of the movie on DVD.  McIntyre’s appropriation of Anderson’s images may recall Sherrie Levine’s 1981 series of re-photographed photographs of sharecroppers originally taken in the 1930s by Walker Evans.  But while Levine challenged the art world’s deep-seated myths of heroic male authorship by reclaiming Evans’s work as her own, McIntyre instead celebrates such authorship, exemplified by Anderson, whose status as one of a handful of great American male auteurs was recently confirmed by the critical success of his Best Picture Academy Award-nominated 2007 movie There Will Be Blood.

Although McIntyre has painted scenes from Punch Drunk Love as if to make material reality of the movie fan’s desire to become a movie director, he has done so in homage, in imitation-as-flattery.  The content and style of this homage and of the portraits of Oldman, Hackman, Hopkins and Walken, connote a fan’s desire for kinship and friendship with his favorite heroic male directors and actors.  Clearly, one of the loves McIntyre has in his life is the reciprocal love he shares with his favorite movies, which bring him never-ending enjoyment in exchange for his devotion to their every detail.

Nothing attests to this love so convincingly as McIntyre’s rendering of his favorite cinematic images in paint rather than by computer or still camera.  The time he has spent precisely executing these paintings by hand bespeaks his cinephilic devotion to the beloved movie moments they capture.  They are image-quotations asserting the importance for McIntyre of these moments and the films to which they synecdochically point.  But even though the paintings in Comme Çi, Comme Ça exist primarily to present fragmented glimpses of McIntyre’s specific cinematic consciousness, they also inspire reflection upon one’s own personal mythos of actors, actresses, movies and movie moments.  They simply publicly announce the adoration that most of us keep relatively hidden.  A movie-addicted romantic with a remote control in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, Evan McIntyre at once celebrates, effaces and becomes the filmmaker by inhabiting, exploring and documenting the worlds and personae a filmmaker creates.


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