The fabulous art of counter-culture artist Robert Williams and the art he creates is the subject of co-directors Mary C. Reese’s and Doug Blake’s study of the art, life and influence of Williams. Whether his subject is classic cars, underground culture, motorcycles, nudity, LSD, alien invasions, scientific hoax or whatever his paintings are a collision of fantastic images that leave the viewer stunned. ‘Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin’ is the highly entertaining introduction to the art of a deceptively sane-looking mad man.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.
Wait. Stop! Before you go any further, if you have access to the Internet, go to Google Images and have it do a search on Robert Williams. Particularly do this if, like me, before this film came along you had no idea who Robert Williams was. If you do not know what his art looks like, you cannot appreciate a review of the film about his work. He is a remarkable artistic talent.
Most often a painting of Williams will have one major image and several smaller images commenting on it. His style is a distillation of art from EC horror comics, ZAP comics, hot rod magazine art, early surrealistic Mad Magazine and the old 1940s pulp magazines. One could look at one of his paintings for hours and still not guess what it says, but they would be most enjoyable hours. Though his work had many influences it became a genre of art all its own and he became a champion for counter-culture art. He was one of a small group of anarchic artists who founded ‘Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine’.
In interviews in front of the camera, Williams talks about his youth and his professional life. Growing up in New Mexico, he found himself in several vocations that were not to be to his liking, but from an early age he had been deeply involved in graphic art. He moved to California to be where art was being re-invented and began re-inventing some himself. Williams first gained serious attention as the art director for hot rod celebrity Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth. Soon, he became interested in the underground comics. A friend showed him ZAP Comics # 2 and by ZAP Comics # 4 he was part of the ZAP comics collective of artists along with notables like Robert Crumb.
Williams became the centre of controversy when his art started turning a little salacious and featured nude or barely dressed women. Accused of creating sexist art, he explained himself and defended his choices as freedom of expression.
The director’s style is one of showing images in rapid-fire. However, since some of Williams’s paintings could be studied for hours, no amount of time would be enough to digest the message of a painting. The interviews with Williams are full of amusing observations like, ‘the only thing that stops your pet cat from eating you is your size.’ Elsewhere Williams talks about his painting (paintings?) of the Piltdown Man, the supposed fossil man that was proven to be a hoax.
Along for the ride are many other artists and notables like Deborah Harry, Axl Rose, Rat Fink and Big Daddy Roth. Also his wife, Suzanne, talks about her relation with her husband and how he got her to share his hobbies like riding a unicycle. Most of those interviewed love his art. As one fan says, ‘[Williams] is the Beatles of Lowbrow [art]’..
‘Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin’ turns out to be a joyous introduction and a wild ride through the life and art of Robert Williams. I rate the film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Incidentally, the reliable snoops.com site completely debunks Deborah Harry’s abduction claim.
‘Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin’ will be released to retail outlets and on VOD July 30, 2013.
© Mark R. Leeper 2013