Robert Frank revolutionized photography and independent film. He documented the Beats, Welsh coal miners, Peruvian Indians, The Stones, London bankers, and the Americans. This is the bumpy ...
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Robert Frank revolutionized photography and independent film. He documented the Beats, Welsh coal miners, Peruvian Indians, The Stones, London bankers, and the Americans. This is the bumpy ride, revealed with unblinking honesty by the reclusive artist himself.
Haitian Fight Song
Written & Performed by Charles Mingus
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A longitudinal insight into how America sees itself
I'd vaguely heard of Robert Frank as an American photographer of the prominent, famous and sometimes important, but didn't really have much idea of why, or the length and depth of his artistic contribution. I wasn't aware of his role as a movie film maker, his relationship with The Rolling Stones or his surly, grumpy focus on the importance of his work, but not of himself. His 1958 portrait of his adopted country The Americans which I've now examined through our local library provides evidence to support what a broad canvas he covered, and so well. If you've heard a reasonable number of episodes of Ira Glass's This American Life you'll have some idea of the breadth of the USA in an audiological way: Robert Frank did this visually.
Frank was a Swiss emigrant and his presence and background at times dominates the film. There's no doubt who it's about, and he has great belief in his opinions. It would seem director Laura Israel and Frank have a huge depth of understanding, and this probably made the film possible. I doubt he'd be easy to work with in such a project.
The challenges of the film are primarily the length and breadth of Frank's work it aims to cover, and whether it should be a sequential journey or a thematic one. As it unfolds, an hour and a quarter isn't very long for such a body of work, and it must have been challenging to decide what to leave out. The result feels a bit superficial – nothing really gets the time needed to deliver its just desserts. The story is more temporal than thematic, but there's enough jumping around to force concentration and at times uncertainty. It leads to a feeling that Robert Frank's life might have been almost as chaotic as the ambiance the film creates. It contrasts in my mind with the more focused, linear determination of Bill Cunningham's New York, which I think succeeded better, with a similar but possibly an easier task.
If you haven't heard of Robert Frank, or aren't familiar with his work, then this is a great introduction – but it isn't an end in itself. It might just open some doors of interest.
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