Sparring Partners

Director Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary Cutie and the Boxer opens August 16.


Ushio Shinohara burst onto the New York art scene in the late ’60s with his cardboard-motorcycle sculptures and the action paintings he made wearing acrylic-soaked boxing gloves. The decades of alcoholism and poverty that followed are the subtext of Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary, Cutie and the Boxer, which won a directing award at this year’s Sundance and opens August 16. In 1972, Shinohara met his artist wife, Noriko, who became his assistant. The quotidian dance of their 40-year marriage—­and their squabbles over their son’s drinking, the rent money, and the title of a joint exhibition—is what gives this documentary its heft and beauty. Though Shinohara tells the camera that “the average one has to support the genius” in defense of his having turned Noriko away from her own art, first-time director Heinzerling gives equal attention to Noriko as her promising animations of Cutie and Bullie (animalistic doppelgängers of the couple) begin to garner acclaim. “I started thinking by myself,” she tells her husband, finally. “I stopped following you.”