Through the course of history, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and Sen. Jesse Helms have been linked. With the documentary Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Inside Deep Throat) quickly get the connection out of the way in an opening montage featuring Helms’ rant to Congress. The late senator meant the words “look at the pictures!” as an insult, but the directors saw another use and included them in the film’s title. And look at the pictures, you will.
The documentary continues to look back at history, chronologically following the photographer’s life: from his upbringing with a Catholic family in the suburbs of Queens in New York City to his self-exploitation as he withered away from AIDS. The well-paced documentary crams interviews featuring Mapplethorpe’s family and the models of some of his best-known images. Even his childhood priest recalls the New Yorker’s early eye for art but also his outsider quality. The film doesn’t hold back its access, from bitter lovers to happily willing collaborators. In turn, the audience is presented with his pictures in all of their confrontational glory.
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The documentary, whose debut on HBO is still a month away, uses the artist’s own words in an audio recording to reveal Mapplethorpe’s interest in porn and how he used it in his art. Like their subject’s images, the filmmakers never hold back, revealing the artist’s desire for fame and sex as key to his aesthetic. Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures is an unapologetic profile of a man whose persona is deeply connected with his art.
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures
Directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. 109 minutes. Not rated. 7 p.m. Saturday, march 12, at Regal Cinemas South Beach 18 & IMAX, 1120 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-674-6766; regmovies.com. Tickets cost $13 via miamifilmfestival.com.