Why ‘Painting with John,’ as in Lurie, is HBO at its best

Every now and then, HBO will add something strange to the series of shows it puts its fortune on – your “Game of Thrones”, your “Undoing”. Something artful for the sake of art, something strange for the sake of weirdness, like Terence Nance’s “Random Acts of Flyness” or “How To with John Wilson”. They may not attract large audiences, or dominate the chatter on social media, or result in multiple press coverage, but for my money, these unpredictable exceptions represent the channel at its most rewarding.

This is John Lurie’s “Painting With John”, an idiosyncratic bagatelle whose second (of six) episode premieres on Friday. Lurie, first known as a musician and actor and forced to give up his career due to Lyme disease, which still troubles him, turned to painting. He finds pictures and tells stories on the unnamed, tropical “tiny island” that he calls home.

Apparently uncomplicated, without a script, if not exactly unplanned, “Painting With John” also raises questions about which games Lurie could play here. He has previously worked in the space between authenticity and invention and recorded in the role of the Malian-Jewish bluesman Marvin Pontiac while playing “Fishing With John” with Tom Waits, Jim Jarmusch, Dennis Hopper and Willem Dafoe and Matt Dillon – mixed a little Fiction with its facts. Each episode of Painting begins with a failed attempt to fly a drone for the opening credits or a successful attempt to crash a drone for the opening credits.

It’s more Spalding Gray than Bob Ross. (“I just want people to know that none of the trees in my paintings are happy,” says Lurie in the opening episode, “Bob Ross Was Wrong.”) Lurie is recognized as the writer and director with Erik Mockus photographer and editor suggests that he is actually in control if the show appears to be something being done to him or her rather than by or with him. “I don’t know why I’m doing this show,” he will tell the viewer. “Do me a favor and just turn it off … If you don’t turn it off, at least don’t tell anyone about it.” And: “It is very strange to speak into a camera as if you were speaking to a person. and people who are actually good at it are probably sociopaths because it’s just a strange thing. “

John Lurie puts brushes on paper in the HBO series

John Lurie puts brushes on paper in the HBO series “Painting With John”.

(HBO)

Lurie’s vibrant watercolors with titles like “Bob Didn’t Believe in Evolution So God Turned Him into a Flower” and “Towards the end she’d sit on the porch and see things that might or might not have been there” shown in the credits; Viewers will have their opinions, but it’s not about whether he’s a good artist by the standards of the art world. Lurie’s career as a musician (the Lounge Lizards, the score for “Get Shorty” and the theme for “Late Night With Conan O’Brien”), as an actor (“Stranger Than Paradise”, “Down By Law”, “Oz”) , and now as a painter, was a self-taught self-invention to find a path to beauty that does not require virtuosity.

As he works, he tells stories of childhood and adult fame about meeting Barry White (good) and Gore Vidal (bad). the last time he saw Anthony Bourdain (“I am agoraphobic now”); his brother and bandmate Evan Lurie and their love for John Coltrane and Little Walter; and how he, exhausted from cancer treatment (“Don’t do the face, I had cancer, I hit it, that’s done, it’s in the past”), almost tore himself to pieces when he tried a curry to warm up.

The mood is mostly meditative. Plants sway in the wind, tree frogs sing, Lurie sits and stares. Much of it is dedicated to moving paint from brush to paper up close, and it’s pretty and satisfying. (Lyme hasn’t compromised his fine motor skills.) When things get more active, the star rolls a tire down a hill (“Make sure you have a bit of fun every day”) or pretends to be an elephant (“Me ‘m not really an elephant, you know – I’m John “) trying to free a bird from its room, and” the section of our program where we show you how the whites dance. ” Here and there we see him with castmates Nesrin Wolf and Ann Mary Gludd James: “Would you mind telling the people at home what a good and fair boss I am?” He asks when the women him and stare at each other. (It’s a comedy; elsewhere it’s referred to as “adorable.”) In person, Lurie mixes adult fatigue with childish playfulness, while the entire show feels homemade and elegant at the same time.

The series has a kind of arc in which Lurie’s circumstances come increasingly, if never entirely, into focus. what we see is framed a little differently in the end; and that the last episode leads to an imaginative dance in the garden, like something from Henri Rousseau that has the power of a small, poignant finale. That it also ends with the title card “The End” suggests that a story was told to us in the same way as a life was shown.

“Painting with John”

Where: HBO
When: Friday 11pm
Assessment: TV-MA (possibly unsuitable for children under 17 years of age)

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