Sheila Franklin’s 2004 documentary, The King of Pluto (2004) focuses on the art of Michigan politico Mike Wrathell. From the outset, it is immediately apparent that Wrathell is a genuine oddball. I say the film is about Wrathell’s art because it is not really about his life at all. He and Franklin do not delve into the why of his art, what drives him, or where he came from and that’s just fine because this approach renders the film as quirky, vague, and enigmatic as Wrathell’s art.
Wrathell considers himself a Warhol-inspired dadaist who is obsessed with the planet Pluto. He recollects that when he met president George W. Bush, he asked Bush to support a mission to Pluto. Bush replied “I’m going to send you to Pluto!” Wrathell (in 2004) predicts the mission to Pluto will be a reality by 2006.
Wrathell’s art can be seen on film can be purchased there as well. Wrathell’s silk-screen art, not surprisingly, often deals with Pluto, but he also covers celebrities, such as Maurren O’ Sullivan, John Travolta’s “Pluto Night Fever,” Ted Koppell as an Orwellian Micky Mouse, and Gilligan (as a Plutonian). Wrathell also covers events and topics such as 911, images of Saturn, Venus, Neptunians, Blue Dracula, and why he prefers Martha Stewart to Barbara Walters.
Wrathell is a Republican and has run for various offices, unsuccessfully. He tells us about buying a CIA baseball cap while he was in New York City near ground zero. He buys it so potential terrorists will think he is CIA. Or, they will think he is not CIA since an agent would not wear a cap reading “CIA”; or, a CIA man might buy a cap reading CIA to make us think he is not with the CIA, when in actuality he is. Who knows? But, on reflection Wrathell admits the cap was worth five bucks.
He takes us to Burger King where he describes the perfect Whopper as having two tomatoes, or three, if you order extra tomato, which is what he orders. Wrathell sits down with his Whopper and explains that it should have three tomatoes. When he unwraps his sandwich, he discovers it to be a Chicken Whopper. He returns the sandwich and hums, masking his displeasure, as they make him a new Whopper. They do it right this time and the world is good again.
Back to the art. Wrathell shows us watercolors on postcards and on lined notebook paper. He has started a movement, he says. It is the Ultra-Renaissance art movement, of which he is the sole member.
In the end, I am not sure who Mike Wrathell really is, but then I don’t know much about Pluto either, other than that the idea of it seems pretty cool, and that is good enough. In the end, I would say Wrathell flies the freak flag high. He is the kind of artist to sit down and have a couple of beers with, let him talk as you drink, and the more you drink, the better and better his talk sounds. That is a recommendation.