'Art of the Prank': Slamdance Review

Art of the Prank still 1 - Joey Skaggs - H 2016
Courtesy of Relight Films
Less diverting than the gags it recounts.

Andrea Marini follows lifelong media hoaxer Joey Skaggs.

Less entertaining than a straight greatest-hits reel might have been, Andrea Marini's Art of the Prank looks at the past and present of Joey Skaggs, the artist-cum-hoaxer who, among other things, once claimed to be running a whorehouse for dogs. Pairing vintage "can you believe they bought that?" TV appearances with behind-the-scenes looks a work in progress, the first-time documentarian offers a sense of Skaggs's oeuvre but little insight into the man himself. Still, the pic holds some appeal on the fest circuit and VOD.

A New York City-raised kid who wanted to be an artist but had little patience for the gallery world, Skaggs emerged in the Vietnam era with outlandish public actions protesting the war. Though the ones we see lack the incisive cultural wit of another, less political happening he staged — in which Skaggs led a tour bus of hippies through outer boroughs, where they could gawk at the squares instead of vice-versa — they did generate a certain kind of half-baked media attention that refocused the artist's work. Henceforth, he would care less about tweaking the minds of the average citizen than about putting one over on lazy journalists.

Marini gathers plenty of examples of the ensuing stunts and interviews some of the actors and artists recruited to help pull them off, though the interviews aren't terribly enlightening. (Actor Robert Forster marvels at Skaggs's work, for instance, but Marini never asks how the two crossed paths.)

Meanwhile, the film follows a recent project whose conceptual thrust it has a tough time explaining. Something of a faux-documentary, Pandora's Hope touches on GMOs and stem cells and Hawaii in ways that might or might not make more sense if we were able to watch the short film in its entirety. Coherent or no, the falsehood-stuffed movie was accepted as an actual doc by a handful of film festivals; as of this writing, its fictional director Kit Farrell has a page on IMDb.

Less intriguing than the clumsy production of Pandora's Hope is the artist himself. How does he make a living, one wonders? What was his domestic life like before he took time out to care for an aging mother? Does he ever fret over the morality of muddying public debate over serious issues with his strange lies? Odds aren't good we will get a second Joey Skaggs documentary to ask these questions.

Production company: Relight Films

Director: Andrea Marini

Producers: Andrea Marini, Judy Drosd

Executive producers: Michele Malfetta, John Cioffi, Guido Marini, Donald A. Barton

Directors of photography: Andrea Marini, Ben Carey

Editors: Emanuele Muscolino, Andrea Marini

Composer: Philip Abussi

Venue: Slamdance Film Festival

Sales: Steven C. Beer, Franklin, Weinrib, Rudell & Vassallo, P.C.

81 minutes