It's not necessarily in the SEMINAL PSYCHOSIS canon of ultimate art docs - TALES FROM THE CRYPT: FROM COMIC BOOKS TO TELEVISION, DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH, FRAZETTA: PAINTING WITH FIRE, DERAILROADED, etc., but it's damn close. Any film that features this many astounding images of Jones' art would be, naturally. In fact its more special on its own terms for its powerful singular character, a high compliment for documentary film-making. BETTER THINGS never falls into the popular traps of over-romanticizing to the point of VH1-style snoozers. While there's both a sober history lesson on Jones' early years and a fair amount of discussion of what was obviously an enormous part of Jones life - sexual identity and gender re-assignment surgery - the real meat in BETTER THINGS is the story of "The Studio" artists, Michael Kaluta, Berni Wrightson, Barry Windsor-Smith, and of course Jeffery Jones.
The film is loaded with candid photos, not the least of which is this one, where "The Studio" artists are clearly shown as the coolest looking bunch of dudes you've ever seen in your life.
"The Studio" is the clever nickname that these four young, appropriately poor, artists called their studio; a life-changing experience for all of them wherein they influenced each other, goofed off, drove each other crazy, and by perhaps one of the widest margins of opinion regarding their era, completely changed the field. It's where the film's other talking heads seem to want to go most, contributing further to the mythic quality that this group had. Leading names of varied enormous commercial success and artistic achievement all pretty much turn into to drooling fan boys dimly asking "Duh, howdid they do that!?" ... a sentiment shared by any levelheaded viewer, natch. And getting to hear Moebius wax philosophical about art doesn't exactly hurt a film's watchability either!
Director Cabardo also realized that this was the best way to treat the material, and while the doc maybe gets up to the edge of championing Jones choices as a progressive act, it certainly doesn't wallow there and the overall impression is that Jones is a unique individual just like any other person of any other sex; unbound to any expected trajectory or stereotype.
So why not take that lunch money and give it to the folks at MACABFILMS - for anyone remotely interested in comic art of the '70s, this is a DVD that'll get repeat viewings. Heck I watched it two days in a row and I feel like I'll be putting it on again tonight ...
-Mike Hunchback, March 2014