Saturday, April 28, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Mapplethorpe

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Ondi Timoner
U.S. Narrative Competition

Artists who create work that isn’t easily digested in their times don’t necessarily seek out controversy, but they see something that many others don’t and feel the need to capture it and express it to the world. The wonderful thing about art, in whatever form, is that it can be preserved to be seen by future generations and appreciated by those with more open minds, inspecting and analyzing it to determine what it was that inspired its creator to make it and what it was they were trying to say, regardless of how strongly others wanted to stifle them.

Robert Mapplethorpe (Matt Smith) begins his career as a painter in the company of Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón) in the 1980s, struggling to make a living and to be taken seriously by his very religious family. Living in Chelsea exposes him to a whole new way of life, which prompts him to make a move to photography. Switching freely between explicit photographs of naked male bodies and BSDM and ordinary portraits of well-known individuals, Mapplethorpe creates a legacy of work matched by the fervor of his process and self-perception, often putting him at odds with the most important people in his life, including his brother Edward (Brandon Sklenar) and wealthy patron Sam (John Benjamin Hickey).

There is no question that Mapplethorpe’s photography was cutting-edge, and it remains so today, representative of an underground scene that he sought to make mainstream without even acknowledging that any gallery owner or collector would reasonably hesitate to display his work. The drive he felt to capture it on camera and the passion with which he sought out subjects, sometimes plucking them from the street to be featured extensively in a series, is what proves most memorable from this biopic, which charts his ascent to success and his deteriorating condition as a result of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Smith is best known to American audiences for his roles on “Doctor Who” and “The Crown,” and he eases into an American accent and a wildly different character here, making Mapplethorpe into an irritable, brilliant artist never expressing any doubts about his talent, only whether others will fully appreciate him. This is a rare foray into narrative filmmaking for director Ondi Timoner, one that covers the history effectively but fails to truly come alive, serving as a perfectly adequate but unspectacular showcase of one man who pushed the boundaries and created something off-putting to some and mesmerizing to others.


No comments: