Sunday, October 2, 2022


Movie Name:
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Ondi Timoner
Starring: Matt Smith, Marianne Rendon, John Benjamin Hickey, Brandon Sklenar, Tina Benko, Mark Moses, Carolyn McCormick, Thomas Philip O'Neill, Mickey O'Hagan, Anthony Michael Lopez
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato directed the wonderful documentary "Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures" in 2016, and this fictional view of his life from director Ondi Timoner fails to capture the ferocity, urgency and transgressive aspect of his art. The narrative introduces us to Robert Mapplethorpe during what can be considered defining moments in his life. Firstly we are introduced to his relationship to artist Patti Smith, who he casually meets in Central Park, and then subsequently embarks on an amorous relationship with, which then becomes a friendship one. The following chapter finds him evolving in his art and also meeting the person who forever changes his life, art curator Sam Wagstaff, who becomes his patron, lover and mentor. During this time Mapplethorpe also starts focusing more intently on photography, and also becomes more active in the gay community. Another chapter of the feature finds Mapplethorpe already well established, with a wide array of commissions, working with the assistance of his brother, and finally coming to terms with Wagstaff's pending demise as well as his own. 
"Mapplethorpe"for all its good intentions fails to ever truly humanize the artist or for that matter, showcase a point of view on what compelled him to pursue his particular perspective in the universe he crafted throughout the years. It would have been interesting to further understand what drew him to the BDSM world or even what compelled his personal relationships both with Patti Smith and his models, but all we get throughout the film are vignettes, illustrations which are meant to represent his evolution of struggling artist to narcissistic, drug addicted and self absorbed star, and finally his demise. There isn't much to this feature that is revelatory, or for that matter particularly emotionally resonant, since even his amorous relationship with Sam Wagstaff is depicted as something casual and not as transformative as it actually turned out to be. In the end that's the most frustrating thing about this film, its lack of ability to go beyond the superficial. Whereas Julian Schnabel's "Basquiat" attempts to capture a particular moment in time, when Basquiat goes from unknown to an acclaimed artist, his relationships and substance abuse challenges, Ondi Timoner attempts a single swoop biography, which in the end renders most characters in it as nothing more than just sketches (including Mapplethorpe himself). The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, with highlights going to Matt Smith, John Benjamin Hickey (who sports a terrible wig), and Brandon Sklenar. The cinematography from Nancy Schreiber is solid, but the film could benefit from a visual style more representative of New York of the 70s and 80s (which James Contner captured so well in William Friedkin's controversial "Cruising"). A missed opportunity and a forgettable film.