The only thing more outrageous than Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs was his life. He was obsessed with magic and in particular, with what he saw as the magic of photography and the magic of sex. He pursued both with insatiable dedication.
“Look at the pictures.” With these words, Jesse Helms denounced the work of Robert Mapplethorpe. Twenty-five years later, the first and most complete documentary about the artist since his death, by acclaimed directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, does just that,with unprecedented unlimited access to his archives and work.
Mapplethorpe might have had hundreds of lovers, but only a few were key relationships, almost all of whom are present in the film.
Rounding out this portrait of the artist are the recollections of his older sister Nancy and youngest brother Edward. An artist and photographer in his own right, Edward worked as Robert’s assistant for many years and was responsible for much of the technical excellence of the work.
But the most prominent voice in the documentary is Mapplethorpe’s own. Thanks to a number of rediscovered interviews, he is our narrator. Completely candid, shockingly honest, he speaks about his life, loves, and work. Seen through his eyes, they were a seamless whole, a complete work of art.
The result is a portrait of the artist who dedicated his life not only to becoming an artist but also to making his chosen medium, photography, respected and valued as a fine art. And he succeeded; His final show, The Perfect Moment, self-planned as he was dying of AIDS, proved to be a time bomb, igniting a culture war that still reverberates today. And since his death, his Foundation, worth hundreds of millions, has made multi-million dollar gifts enabling museums from the Guggenheim to the Getty to set up and maintain photography collections.