(RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5) THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED. IN BRIEF: A fine documentary that obsesses more about the artist's sex life than need be, but what powerful imagery on display!GRADE: BSYNOPSIS: A portrait of an artist that focuses on his explicit photographs while telling his life story. ?Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's fascinating documentary, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, parades a multitude of the artist's photographs as it depicts the life of this 70's icon. While the filmmakers seem more obsessed with his personal sexual peccadilloes and his journey into sadomasochism, they do give equal time to the his photographic legacy. The film traces the artist's life from child until his death of AIDS in 1989. (He was 42 years old when he died.) Using many interviews from friends, family members, models, and ex-lovers to form this portrait of a artist, Robert Mapplethorpe's sex life is full frontal, as are his large scale, black and white photographs of models with their flaccid and erect male genitalia on display. All are matter-of-factly shown. ?Mapplethorpe's openly gay life, his detour into sex and drugs, and his walk on the wild side permeated his imagery. His egotism and ambition are literally laid bared in his artwork and in this documentary. The artist's eagerness to shock the viewer with photographs that are referred to as "bordering on the edge of pornography". (Hardly. The artists jumped fully into this hedonistic world with eyes wide open. Much of his earlier work all too closely resemble blatant money shots with better lighting that could easily be found in the pages of X-rated magazines of that era. In fact, in those early days when he moved to the Soho area of New York City in his twenties, he used to call himself, "a pornography photographer", a designation of which I concur. However, his later works are truly another story...quite sensual, beautifully crafted, with a unique artistic vision.) Beginning his career with collages and Polaroids, Mapplethorpe's sexual addiction became rampant, using his ex-partners as subjects for his nude photographs. This led to hook-ups with the rich and powerful, enabling him to establish a name as an artist and explore the growing media of photography. ?His work also became quite controversial due to its sexually-explicit subject matter. (His photography show, The Perfect Moment, created quite a stir in the 80's with Senator Jesse Helms denouncing his art and the now defunct The Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington, DC eventually closing his posthumous exhibition. This created a domino effect of censorship on trial while increasing his fame and fortune. This aspect of his career is almost a footnote and should have been more front and center, a missed opportunity by the directors who had direct access to his work through the Mapplethorpe Foundation. )This documentary offers a compelling view of the photographer. It does not shy away from Robert's narcissism, sexual bravado, and a definite mean streak evidenced by the words of many family members and acquaintances whom he used and readily discarded.?Yet one wishes more screen time was spent showing the less obvious work and concentrating more on other lesser known series, such as his flower imagery and portraits. But sex sells, and the artist knew it, as do the filmmakers here. It is big business too, as the film appears to be an infomercial for a current showing of his work, running concurrently at the Getty Museum and Los Angeles County Art Museum until mid summer. (Listening to the stodgy curators intellectualizing Mapplethorpe's graphic sadomasochistic imagery is unintentionally hilarious viewing.)?Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures prides itself in its explicitness. It should be seen by any art lover or gay history buff. Visit my blog at: www.dearmoviegoer.comANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: [email protected]
Always absorbing doc on the life of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. I appreciated getting to see so much of his work, and having more of a context of his life story to put them in. It's funny how time, internet porn, etc has somewhat dulled the shock of his hyper-explicit gay S+M photos, but while that might have distressed Mapplethorpe, who clearly loved playing the provocateur, it makes it easier to look at his terrific of body of work as a whole, neither excluding or obsessing over the sexual images, but integrating them. Seen now, the most interesting thing about them is how beautiful they are aesthetically, but also how absolutely controlled, carefully framed, beautifully lit. In that way they are weirdly de- sexualized, not matter how 'out there' the activity. And seeing them next to, say, Mapplethorpe's images of flowers, you realize that his work has a strict aesthetic language that treats a flower and a penis the same way (and indeed, the flowers often have phallic looking elements, and the phalluses look abstract and almost made of marble. On a personal taste level I wish the doc might have gone for less breadth and more depth. By trying to cover just about every major element and event in Mapplethorpe's life, there just isn't screen time enough to dive deeply into his art, his relationships, his mind or his heart. It's almost like the film functions more as an introductory overview than a detailed examination. I did like that the film neither lionizes nor demonizes Mapplethorpe as a human being. We see a fascinating man driven by ambition and a need to make his mark to the point that he could be very insensitive or even hurtful to those around him. But I still was touched and saddened by his story, and by the sense he never really found happiness despite his artistic success. On the other hand, I wasn't thrilled by some of the supposedly off the cuff and 'fly on the wall' discussions between current day curators and critics who provide some very awkward exposition. Creaky exposition is creaky exposition, whether in fiction or documentary. And having these learned art scholars ask each other questions and tell each other things that they clearly all already know feels a bit dishonest and a touch dorky. Personally I'd rather have a good old fashioned talking head lecture me than have false badly 'acted' conversations that would never have happened without a camera and an audience. But that's a small and personal nit-pick.
Mapplethorpe was definitely a unique and fascinating character and regardless of how you feel about his more graphic photographs, you cannot dismiss that he had an amazing eye. He crammed a considerable amount of life into his 42 short years. Even if you can't look at every picture, this was a lovingly shot look at a complex artist.
"LOOKING AT THE PICTURES ritualistically takes a portrait of every interviewee as a homage to Mapplethorpe's stock in trade. Former lovers, family members, various collaborators and associates, including a sharp-tongued Fran Lebowitz, purvey their own insights and anecdotes about Mapplethorpe and his art, with one glaring missing input from Patti Smith, Robert's former girlfriend, although they remained friends until his passing, their intimate cohabitation during their salad days (from 1967 to 1972) is only alluded to through their common friend Sandy Daley, for one thing, how Robert discovered his sexuality is regrettably untapped. Thankfully, most of the interviewees are relatively forthcoming, and through their vivid accounts and recollections, audience feels capable of drawing a general picture of Mapplethorpe the artist, a driven, ambitious, self-centered, polyamorous go-getter and provocateur with an uncanny facility with the camera, achieving his American dream through his épater-les-bourgeois bravura, only too wrenching to find out that mortality sneaks up on him far sooner than usual, just when his star begins to rise."read my full review on my blog: Cinema Omnivore, please google it, thanks.