According to Richard Osterweil, the star of PAINTING THE TOWN and its sole raison d'etre, he moved to New York City in 1974 for the same reason everyone does: to spot celebrities. Osterweil is a painter, a rather unsuccessful calling he supports by driving cabs and checking coats at fancy
restaurants. (He's prolific and, if somewhat derivative, surprisingly good, but his insistence on retaining visiting rights to his paintings has scared off most buyers.) His true metier, however, is crashing the parties, marriages and funerals of the rich and famous.
Osterweil's "social" conquests are many and varied. He's appeared at Gloria Steinem's fiftieth birthday fete; Leona Helmsley's celebrated trial for tax fraud; Imelda Marcos' trial, where the embattled former First Lady of the Philippines complimented him on his sneakers; and Phyllis George's
wedding reception at Tavern on the Green. After being evicted from socialite Barbara de Portago's wedding, he put a curse on the marriage and vowed to attend her next one; true to his word, he did. The enterprising Osterweil forges invitations and, to crash particularly tight soirees, enlists
friends who pose as paparazzi and shower him with attention as he sweeps into the lobby. (The heady whirl of power and prestige isn't the only attracttion for Osterweil--he's also there for the food.)
On a more somber note, Osterweil also crashed Richard Rodgers's funeral at Temple Emanu-El, where he escorted the elderly Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish out of the building; Warhol's funeral, where he and the Warhola clan were the only non-celebrities in attendance; and a shiva call for Leonard
Bernstein at the fabled Dakota. He even crashed Roy Cohn's funeral--just to make sure he was dead. Osterweil doesn't view this practice as morbid, instead viewing himself as a witness to history. He's heard the great eulogized. Also, as Osterweil points out, "So I didn't know you in life. In death
it's a different story."
The pixie-faced Osterweil is an unabashed elitist, but he's a refreshingly down-to-earth one who's nicknamed himself, a la DANCES WITH WOLVES, "Stands with Celebrities." He's also charmingly forthright about his obsession with various luminaries, including Katherine Hepburn (he once stole
Hepburn's garbage, but was disappointed to find it quite commonplace), Princess Grace (after an accomplice managed to procure Grace's unlisted Manhattan number, Osterweil, posing as her son's school chum, called her the next time she was in town, and they chatted at length), and ballerina Suzanne
Farrell. (For several years, the utterly devoted Osterweil scheduled his entire life around Farrell's performance schedule.) By his own admission, however, he identifies most strongly with that legendary gamine, Audrey Hepburn.
Osterweil has also been particularly obsessed with Mrs. Samuel Peabody, the glamorous, supremely regal socialite and fellow balletomane he admired from afar for several months before approaching her in front of the Public Theater. Unbeknownst to Peabody, he'd already begun a series of portraits of
her and she's since become something of a muse. (Another recurrent theme in his artwork is the Romanov dynasty.) The upshot of Osterweil's obsessions? He's now good friends with Judy Peabody and actually receives invitations to the kind of events he used to crash, such as dinner with Brooke Astor
and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's gala tribute to Audrey Hepburn.
Technically, PAINTING THE TOWN is barely adequate, displaying none of the structural or visual inventiveness that has refueled the documentary format in recent years. Instead, filmmakers Andrew Behar and Sara Sackner rely on the inherent allure of their previously unheralded subject to hold their
audience--something Richard Osterweil is more than capable of doing.
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: According to Richard Osterweil, the star of PAINTING THE TOWN and its sole raison d'etre, he moved to New York City in 1974 for the same reason everyone does: to spot celebrities. Osterweil is a painter, a rather unsuccessful calling he supports by driving… (more)
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