At the heart of Died Young, Stayed Pretty, Eileen Yaghoobian's documentary about rock poster artists, is a disregard for pleasing the masses. Like the artists she follows, Yaghoobian's film couldn't give two shits about the rules. There is no concise history of rock posters in Died Young, Stayed Pretty. It does not document some sort of rise or fall. No one explains how exactly the posters are made or who exactly the artists are and how exactly they relate to each other. Instead of an encyclopedic document, Yaghoobian has produced a psychological portrait of a distinctly related but fractured scene of contemporary artists.
Some people, even some of the artists in Died Young, Stayed Pretty, might bristle at the thought of calling these posters "contemporary art." The film makes no explicit arguments, instead letting the artists speak for themselves. Addressing the life of a poster after the gig, artist Art Chantry says, "It's an artifact. I make cultural artifacts. Some people think of it as detritus." These posters exist in that strange dimension between art and trash. They're framed in museums and torn from telephone poles. As Yaghoobian portrays them, the poster artists are comfortable in this liminal place.
It's no surprise that the group of profiled poster makers is a misanthropic white boys club. Chantry points to one work depicting people he thinks should "shut the fuck up," including Oprah, the Dalai Lama, Celine Dion and Ollie North. "This was done about 10 years ago," he explains. "Nowadays, the poster would be much larger." Tom Hazelmyer, founder of legendary punk label Amphetamine Reptile Records, vents his boredom and dissatisfaction with contemporary youth culture, "Someone being in a punk band today? That's like being a hippie in 1984. It's fucking retarded." The film's personalities take themselves seriously, often to a fault, and Yaghoobian gives them enough space to convey as much.
Died Young, Stayed Pretty is best, though, when exploring the psychology behind the precarious, confusing and confrontational posters. Yaghoobian makes a habit of lingering in the awkward moments, instead of cutting away when the conversation pauses or veers off on a tangent. One particularly long shot watches an artist playing with a World Trade Center souvenir lamp, making an uncomfortable and adolescent 9/11 joke. The scene's discomfort and crass awkwardness is a perfect metaphor for the posters: They're often offensive, self-referential works, uninterested in extending themselves to an audience that doesn't get the joke.
Though words sometimes fail the interviewees, Brian Chippendale of the band Lightning Bolt is a refreshingly articulate subject. Yaghoobian frames him with the sun glaring into her camera; a colorful splash of lens flares obscuring his face. While complaining about trendy real estate investors, he let's a phrase slip that speaks for the whole indie poster-making scene. "The truth is that you don't want to live next to Lightning Bolt," he says. "I'm in a mill and I'm next to a factory because it's the only place I can be."