A Brief History of John Baledessari is jaunty stroll through Baledessari’s work and life. The self-deprecating attitude throughout the film makes it clear that John Baledessari does not seem to regard himself as anything special. The quick cuts do not ask the viewer to contemplate or absorb his work, but simply to acknowledge that it exists. The spot-on narration by Tom Waits is also has a sarcastic tone to it, intimating that the entire Brief History is a bit of a joke.
However, this self-depreciative attitude is contrasted with the story itself, which chronicles the growth and triumph of an artist. The tone helps reinforce the basic premise—that art is incidental, spontaneous, and not at all serious. Yet the humor and self-deprecation do a lot to warm the audience to Baledessari, which ultimately rasies the film to a serious quality. The audience has been invested in his story simply by the fact that the audience likes him, and wants him to succeed.
Ultimately, I like this documentary because it does not try to shove something down your throat. Both of the other documentaries are gravely serious, whereas A Brief History doesn’t really care whether you take it seriously or whether you like it or not. It does what a documentary is supposed to do, document and present.