Dirt: Mike Mills, Self-Archivist
21st Century Man
Tyler Watamanuk on Mike Mills as a careful cataloger of his own wide-ranging oeuvre.
On mikemillsmikemills.com and his personal Vimeo page, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker and artist Mike Mills has a meticulously documented catalog of his work that spans nearly three decades. It is undoubtedly the website of a graphic designer, a tidy grid with minimal decoration and the enduring quality of a site built in the late aughts. His website appears to have been this way from the start. (The earliest capture on Wayback Machine is 2013, where it looks the same except for a few additional sections.) Mills is an exceptionally unique candidate for such preservation—his creative output ranges from high-profile movies and artsy silk-screened posters to wry T-shirt designs and winking commercial spots.
Before he was a lauded writer-director, Mills was a graphic artist swirling about New York's 1990s downtown art scene, showing work at Alleged Gallery alongside contemporaries like Barry McGee and Harmony Korine. This earned him a reputation as an off-beat creative with a strong point of view, which gave way to album art commissions that led to music videos, short films, and eventually features. On his website, under the "Graphics" section, you can see the cover art for Sonic Youth's Washing Machine and T-shirt designs for Beastie Boys. These appear next to patterns and graphics he designed for fashion designer Marc Jacobs, seminal streetwear brand Supreme, and cult-loved label X-Girl. Under "Art," there is a recap of a 1996 exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery in Manhattan and 2007 billboards produced for the Los Angeles sneaker store Undefeated.
Over on Mills' Vimeo channel, you can watch a series of videos he uploaded upon the release of 2011's Beginners. This includes a short animated clip entitled "Butts" and a video diary of the San Francisco premiere, where we see intimate footage of his wife Miranda July being Miranda July, and Mills himself nervously waiting backstage. There are excerpts from Does Your Soul Have A Cold?, his 2007 documentary that explores the introduction of antidepressants in Japan, and Paperboys, a short film of American adolescents that he released in 2001. Commercials for Facebook, Gap, Old Spice, and Volkswagen are all featured on the page as well.
It is relatively uncommon for a filmmaker of Mike Mills’ stature to maintain such a detailed and public-facing portfolio. In many ways, the notion of cataloging one's life and work is in lockstep with what Mills has done with his movies, most of which are semi-autobiographical and deeply personal. He acts as much a writer-director as a self-archivist, mining his heart and soul for parts to immortalize on screen. Then, upon the film's release, he will simply upload it to his portfolio, just as a good graphic designer is taught to do. — Tyler Watamanuk
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