Another day, another fabulous review for Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures! Writes the Wall Street Journal:
Flowers were a recurring subject in Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography. But so were hard-core gay sex and the male member. When the artist’s show “The Perfect Moment” went on tour in 1989, it caused a furor that extended to the floor of the U.S. Senate. “Look at the pictures,” North Carolina’s Jesse Helms urged his colleagues, as if that would settle the issue.
It doesn’t—not the way Mr. Helms intended. As directors Fenton Baileyand Randy Barbato so eloquently demonstrate in their biography/social critique of Mr. Mapplethorpe, his art transcends the controversy. One of the more important aspects of this documentary—which includes interviews with Mapplethorpe family members and various survivors of ’70s and ’80s downtown Manhattan, including Patti Smith—is the way the filmmakers make sure we really do see the pictures: their compositional mastery, their originality, their beauty.
The directors succumb to what can be an art-film trap, the urge to emulate the style of the subject. It works, though, from the way characters are introduced through the horizontal viewfinder of a medium-format Hasselblad (Mr. Mapplethorpe’s camera) to the fashion-shoot aesthetic of the interviews themselves. And there’s also the story: of Mr. Mapplethorpe’s childhood in Queens; of the link between his early Catholicism and the gothic nature of his most famous photos; and of his early death from AIDS.
“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” coincides with the double retrospective now in Los Angeles at the Getty and LACMA, and among the many amusing/shocking things in the film are the museums’ young curators and their bashful attitude toward Mr. Mapplethorpe’s photos. The pictures still make people uncomfortable. Watching it together could make friends squirm. But it’s not a very high price to pay for an evening of art and truth.
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures premieres Monday night on HBO.