It’s an interesting experience, going into a film like Have You Seen The Listers? blind. A documentary portrait of street artist Anthony Lister narrated by the man himself, the film is painfully honest – and for those who don’t know Lister’s work, it’s not apparently clear from the outset whether Lister will end the film achieving the success and acclaim he so clearly wants.
So for the ignorant the question quickly arises: is Have You Seen The Listers? making the case for its own value because it’s about an important visual artist? Or is it valuable because it’s about a man who has sacrificed everything – his family, his sanity, his health – all to follow a creative vision?
The narrative crux of the film isn’t strictly Lister’s paintings – it’s the gradual and irreversible implosion of his family
The answer ends up falling somewhere between those two extremes. Lister’s artwork has received enough success to guarantee him a revenue source for the rest of his life – as his long-suffering, mistreated ex-wife points out in a voicemail message cribbed for the film, he will never have to worry about finding work again. And the film is clearly made by a fan of the man: the closing lines of the documentary see Lister address the documentarian by his first name, and the camera scoops up loving close-up after close-up of Lister’s work.
But the narrative crux of the film isn’t strictly Lister’s paintings – it’s the gradual and irreversible implosion of his family. Which is where things get tricky. Have You Seen The Listers? doesn’t pretend to be objective: although Lister’s ex-wife gets some kind of say, she is relegated to the position of a talking head, whereas Lister remains wholly in control of the proceedings. It’s his story, and his voice telling it, which, by the film’s overtly saccharine, uncomfortable conclusion, becomes genuinely problematic.
By the film’s end Lister is, as one might imagine, heartbroken that his wife has left him, ostensibly taking his three young children with her – but he is not removed enough from the situation to see the great luxuries she once afforded him. For instance, in one extraordinary sequence early in the film, she allows him to travel to New York by himself while she stays at home with their young child – but neither Lister himself nor his documentarian friend, seem willing to applaud her for this, and the third act denigrates into petty couple sniping and an awkward, unpleasantly one-sided appraisal of Lister.
Perhaps that’s fitting. Have You Seen The Listers? is a film about a troubled man – it makes sense then that as a finished product, it is just as lopsided, frustrating and problematic as the man that inspired it.
Have You Seen The Listers? is playing at selected theatres now.