Couple Behind Indie Hit “Make Me Famous” Captures Gritty, East Village Art World of the ‘80s

Brian Vincent and Heather Spore, the husband and wife theatrical team behind the documentary “Make Me Famous,” capture the gritty world of the Lower East Side in the 1980s through the prism of one of the era’s unheralded artists, Edward Brezinski. It’s playing at screenings at the New Plaza Cinema on 35 W. 67th and downtown’s Roxy Cinema, before hitting the road later this month.

| 18 Sep 2023 | 12:25

Brian Vincent remembers the first time he saw Heather Spore, the woman who would eventually become his wife and partner, in the documentary “Make Me Famous.” She was gardening outside her Hell’s Kitchen apartment building on West 49th St. next door to the building where he lived, working on a community effort to beautify the tree pits on the block between Ninth and Tenth Ave. “We called it Gang Green,” recalled Spore.

“I quickly developed an interest in horticulture,” joked Vincent of the chance encounter. The couple–he originally from Overland Park, KS before arriving at Julliard at age 19, and she originally from Keller, TX near Fort Worth–have since moved from Hell’s Kitchen to East Harlem.

Straus News was waiting in the cafeteria area of the New Plaza Cinema on W. 67th St. one afternoon where their artsy documentary on Edward Brezinski has been been playing for eleven weeks. Brian’s birthname is Kelly–no relation to the writer of this piece–but since there was already a fairly well-known SAG card-carrying actor named Brian Kelly when he was starting is career, he took the stage name Vincent in homage to the artist Vincent Van Gogh.

Their movie has been gaining an edgy following in the indie New York cinema world, helped in part by a rave review in the influential ARTFORUM.

“’Make Me Famous” is less a portrait of Brezinski than that of a time and place: the East Village scene of the 1980s, fueled by myriad nostalgias—for old New York, for one of late modernism’s last bohemian enclaves, or simply for grit and authenticity in this age of endless simulation—and turbocharged by the myths of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat,” wrote the reviewer Carlo McCormick, ARTFORUM’s tough but respected art critic.

Not long after their chance encounter, Heather soon landed a role as part of the ensemble cast of “Wicked” on Broadway. She was the understudy to the central character Glinda and went on several times subbing for Kate Reinders, (who is now in the TV series “High School Musical.”) Spore is clearly not the superstitious type. “I had auditioned 13 times,” she recalled, “and I stayed for 13 years. And yesterday [Aug. 28] was our 13th wedding anniversary,” Spore said with a laugh.

Brezinski was something of an enigma, they recalled, but they kept encountering his name for what Vincent originally conceived would be a play about downtown Manhattan in the 1980s. Brezinski was talented, but never seemed to break out of the ecosystem of the downtown art world, where everyone seemed to know him. In fact, one of the only references they could find of him from that turbulent era in the mainstream press was an item in Page Six, the NY Post gossip column. Brezinski was at a show at the Paula Cooper Gallery in SOHO of Robert Gober, a conceptual artist famed for utilizing everyday pieces such as sinks and doors in sculptures. His art exhibit that day: donuts in a bag, with an $8,000 price tag. Brezinski, reached into the bag and ceremoniously ate one of the donuts–only to be informed it had been treated with a formaldehyde type preservative and raced to a hospital emergency room. “He lived another 20 years,” said Vincent. Friends suspected Brezinski called in the item to Page Six himself.

Brezinski had set himself up in his own space called the Magic Gallery on East 3rd St. As the British publication Apollo wrote of Brezinski, “He fetishises the archetype of the ‘starving artist’, yet seethes at others’ success.” He once tossed a glass of wine into the face of influential gallerist Annina Nosei, who was the first gallerist to feature Jean-Michel Basquiat. She apparently did not hold it against him, and was instrumental in getting his work picked up in a permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum.

Vincent said a friend, Lenny Kisko, a dancer who supported himself by waiting tables, was also a huge collector of Brezinski’s art who helped their project enormously. “Brezinski used to say his main benefactor was a waiter,” noted Vincent.

Another find was locating someone named “Jim C.” He left a graduate program at Wake Forest University to move to New York as an artist, and filmed tape after tape of video while helping to run the Magic Gallery with Brezinski.

The artists and musicians who were the pioneers that made the East Village neighborhood trendy helped spawn a thriving nightlife, which attracted a whole new crowd of bar-hoppers and partygoers. By the end of the decade, landlords realized they could hike rents in the now trendy East Village. That of course heralded the beginning of the end of a haven for struggling artists attracted by cheap rents.

Brezinksi left the East Village in 1990, first heading to Berlin and then to Paris. An obituary appeared from Cannes in 2007, but when Vincent and Spore went to south Paris themselves to search for a death certificate–since he was said to have died in a hotel in Nice– none could be found. “For most of the time we were doing the movie we thought he was still alive–and most of his friends thought he might still be alive too,” recalled Vincent. “There were times we thought we had caught traces of him–but it wasn’t him.”

Their work turned into a decade-long sojourn. “We started doing the research in 2012. We filmed many of the interviews in 2015 and kept going to the 2020s.” They estimate they spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” of their own money in the making of the documentary.

They did get some grant money from New York State Council of the Arts, as well as support from the Gotham Film and Media Institute.

Why didn’t he become famous? “He had a few characteristics that got the better of him,” Vincent noted. “It wasn’t just the drinking. He had a tendency to not cooperate with people and stand up at galleries and accuse them of hypocrisy.”

”A lot of people from that era got famous,” noted Vincent, “but not Brezinski. “Much to his chagrin,” added Spore.

When they finally finished the documentary, they said they could not find a distributor.. “We did have offers from streaming companies, but they did not want to do a theatrical release. We felt it needed to be in theaters,” said Vincent. And so they turned down offers to go straight to streaming and went instead to the riskier artsy screening route. “We’re using the film to do the same thing that happened in the East Village in the 1980s, brining people together,” said Spore. Adds Vincent: “It’s a time capsule of the art and music of the era.”

The screenings were held first in Toronto in Jan., where it was screened in the Hot Docs Cinema. Then it headed to London, where it played in two theaters, Bertha Doc House and ICA in Feb. The Museum of the City of New York held a screening for their Moonlight and Movies series April 18, which sold out in a matter of hours.

From there, other artsy venues picked it up: the Roxy Cinema June 22 and the New Plaza Cinema where it started on June 23, and has had 11 weeks and counting by the time Straus News caught up with them.

“It’s a real love letter to the creativity that is New York,” says Spore.

“We have bookings through November now,” notes Spore. There’s no show at the Roxy this weekend, but there is a show at the New Plaza Cinema on Sept. 10 at 7:10 p.m. They are playing NY at the Tinker Street Cinema in Woodstock on Sept. 21, and Rosendale Theater in Rosendale on Sept. 22-24. On Sept. 27th, it is at Cinema Detroit. From Oct. 19 to Nov. 3, they will be doing screenings at the 4 Star Theater in San Francisco. Other appearances in the local region include the Acme Screening Room in Lambertville, NJ on Sept. 9th; Goggle Works Sept. 14-20 in Reading PA and the Black Bear Film Festival in Milford, PA on Oct. 14.

To keep up with the latest screenings, go to this website.