12/31: Smash His Camera
Or, "The Amour Fou-to Between Jackie O And The Godfather Of American Paparazzi."
Ron Galella, the aged but still game subject of Smash His Camera, has taken some of the iconic photos of the last 40 years, and it's those that really make the movie: the famous "Windblown Jackie"; the shots of Brando and Cavett, out to midnight Chinese dinner, that got Galella's teeth knocked in and Brando sued; the shot of Robert Redford Sundance Channel still uses to advertise "Bob's Picks" or whatever they call it, with his giant mirrored aviators. It's all black-and-white photos from Galella's collection, many from the heyday of Studio 54, expertly edited by Doug Abel into different sorts of montages — flip-style, strip-style — and when one talking head sniffs that Galella's "talent" boils down to his choice of subject, well, that's true.
But it's also true that Galella captures the essence of those celebrity subjects. That sports photographer Neil Leifer, himself a legend, is so disgusted by Galella when Leifer himself apparently got unauthorized access to baseball games by pushing disabled patrons into the Polo Grounds, then taking his place in the photogs' field box like he belonged there, suggests to me that there's more to it than that. Galella could get the shot. Yeah, he's probably the reason TMZ is 1.5 inches from celebs' faces at LAX here in 2015. Yeah, he should have ceded the field when the big game were out with their children. Yeah, the guy who gets a documentary made about him because he's a notorious pap doesn't walk those lines, or see them, or care that they're miles behind him. (Galella's "art of the paparazzi" bullet points early in the film are a process-nerd highlight: don't wear a coat, so it looks like you're just on a break and not coming in illegally from outside; know where the kitchen is at big events, and go in the out door; don't use the viewfinder, because it doesn't really let you see (Galella himself is shown several times wearing Coke-bottle lenses of the sort that don't really come with his advanced age); take the photo, and then ask, and when they say no, you already have the shot).
The inclusion of more than a few interviewees who view Galella as a toad only makes it more obvious that the movie's on his side as far as his just trying to do his job, but if Smash His Camera director Leon Gast (When We Were Kings) is interested in locating the line between the public's interest and the right to privacy, he doesn't do a great job of highlighting it…or of deciding whether it's about Galella the interesting human or Galella the turning point in artistic/commercial history. Gast might feel like he only has to pay lip service to certain ideas, but that's okay; the movie is an attractive time capsule, and it flies by. We don't need lessons, just the pictures.
Tags: 31 Days 31 Films Dick Cavett documentaries Doug Abel Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Leon Gast Marlon Brando movies Neil Leifer Robert Redford Ron Galella Smash His Camera