Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Movie Review: Smash His Camera

Smash His Camera ***
Directed By:
Leon Gast.

I have always thought that the paparazzi are pretty much scum. After watching Leon Gast’s new documentary, Smash His Camera about Ron Galella, one of the first and most famous parparazzi in America, I haven’t changed my mind. Here is a man who essentially stalked Jackie Kennedy for years, despite her asking him not to, and eventually getting a restraining order against him. When the order went down from 200 yards to 25 feet, Galella was back on her again – this time with a tape measure for everyone to see. After he got in Marlon Brando’s face – and Brando punched him out, knocking five teeth from his jaw – Galella showed back up the next time Brando was in public in a football helmet. He recalls these incidents with glee in this film – but what struck me was how pathetic he really was. It was like he wanted to be famous, had no real talent, so decided to glam onto famous people himself – and inject himself in their stories as much as possible. What a sad little man this is.

And yet, part of what makes Smash His Camera as fascinating as it is, is the debate that Galella has inspired. Some in the movie call him scum, some call him an artist – he pictures have been shown in galleries the world over, including MOMA in New York. I think the best description of Galella in the film was simply “he is the cost of the first amendment”. That strikes me as true.

Because we need freedom of the press. We need investigative journalists to dig into the things that really matter, and give the public the information they need to know. Galella says repeatedly that the public has the right to know, the right to see his pictures. But why? They have the right to know about Watergate and other political scandals. But why do they have the right to know where Marlon Brando ate dinner? Or that Jackie went bike riding in the park with her son? Or that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor got into a fight on their yacht? Seriously, why the hell do we need to know that?

The film is fascinating because it delves into Galella’s work – but also his personal life. He actually seems like a fairly nice guy, and its hard not to like him a little – especially when he talks about how much he loves bunnies. I mean serious, how can you really hate someone who loves bunnies.

And then there is a question of whether or not his photographes are actual art. Most importantly, do his pictures hold up in and of themselves, or are they simply fascinating because of the people in them. If you don’t know how Marlon Brando is, does Galella’s photograph of him still interesting, like many of the great paintings of people we don’t know, do. Or is it only fascinating because its Brando.

Well its true that compared to the current paparazzi – who shoot crude pictures on their cell phones, comparing to Galella who works on actual film and develops his own pictures – are truly artless, there is something about Galella’s pictures that are fascinating. Mind you, unlike the young woman who walks around the gallery mispronouncing the names of the people in the photos (my favorite being when she pronounces the t in Bardot, or when she looks at another picture and entitled Jackie and Bobby, then asks the camera “Kennedy?”) I know who most of the people in his photographes are of.

But in the end, does it really matter? Galella, no matter what you think of his photos, really is a parasite. Sorry, but its true. His only claim to fame is that he was really, really good at stalking famous people and annoying them to no end. So the question is, why should we care?

No comments:

Post a Comment