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The controversial sides (yes, plural) of Mapplethorpe get the big-screen treatment
"Mapplethorpe" (2018 release; 102 min.) is a biographical movie about the life and times of controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. As the movie opens, we are told it is "Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, 1969", where a young Robert Mapplethorpe looks utterly bored. Next thing, we are in Manhattan, where Mapplethorpe is bouncing from place to place, and he is refused entrance to the Whitney Museum as he can't afford the $1 admission. Then one day, at the park, a young lady comes up to him asking for help. Turns out to be Patti Smith. They hit it of right away, and it's not long before they move in together at the Chelsea Hotel. By happenstance, another tenant there introduces Robert to a Polaroid camera... At this point we're less than 15 min. into the movie, and you;ll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this movie is written and directed by Ondi Timoner, best known for her music documentary "DIG!". As soon as I saw her name attached to "Mapplethorpe", I was pretty reasonably confident that we'd get a good movie. And it is a good enough, although by no means great, movie. The challenge faced by Timoner is how to bring the controversial sides (yes, in plural) of Mapplethorpe, both as to his personal life and as to his art, to the screen, without diluting the essence of the man and his work. In my book, Timoner strikes a good balance. The movie benefits greatly from the incredible performance by British actor Matt Smith in the title role. He really makes you believe that we are looking at the real Mapplethorpe. Beware: the movie contains a fair amount of nudity, mostly male nudity I might add. The early years between Mapplethorpe and Smith have also been covered in Patti Smith's brilliant memoir "Just Kids" (much better than this film, frankly). It is hard to believe that 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of Mapplethorpe's death... The movie's closing credits reference "The Perfect Moment" traveling exhibit later in 1989-90, where upon its exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center here in Cincinnati in Spring of 1990, the CAC was charged with obscenity, the first museum ever to face such a charge, the movie reminds us. The CAC was subsequently acquitted by a unanimous jury, but the film makers "accidentally forget" to mention this in the movie's closing credits...
"Mapplethorpe" premiered at last year's Tribeca film festival to positive acclaim, and finally was released in theaters this weekend. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at my art-house theater here in Cincinnati, was attended okay but not great (about 20 people). Following the screening, there was an insightful, free-flowing half hour Q&A session with Louis Sirkin, the Cincinnati lawyer who successfully defended the CAC against that obscenity indictment. If you have any interest in controversial art and a controversial artist, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion
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