“The best way to be is to be curious, stand up, keep your eyes open, don’t shake, don’t blink…” Robert Frank, photographer and filmmaker
The sage advice above is given by enigmatic photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank near the end of Laura Israel’s documentary portrait, DON’T BLINK: ROBERT FRANK, showing tonight on Rialto Channel. It’s just one of many clever, quirky utterances by the super creative Swiss-born American, who will turn 93 this year and shows little sign of slowing down.
With its cooler-than-thou, multi genre soundtrack, snappy editing and lashings of attitude, the documentary brilliantly captures the essence of the man, who most definitely can be called one of a kind. Influenced by - and close friends with - the infamous Beat writers, Frank is perhaps best known for his seminal book The Americans, which truly made his name. A collection of 83 photographs culled from thousands he took while traveling the United States, it generated controversy for images that to some viewers starkly portrayed America's extreme racial divide, as well as the poverty lurking beneath happy displays of wealth and prosperity. The book is now regarded by many as the most important American work of photography in the post-war era, and its influence has travelled far and wide. If you haven’t checked out imagery from it then I highly suggest you do – Frank has an innate ability when it comes to capturing more than just his subject in each frame, and it is brutal and beautiful in turn.
The larger than life talent also forged a parallel career as an experimental film-maker, and his best-known movie is one that few people have seen at all. Emerging from the bowels of the hedonistic, tragic and overblown music scene of the early Seventies, 1972’s COCKSUCKER BLUES is a documentary about the bacchanal that was the Rolling Stones’ American Exile on Main St. tour. The band originally commissioned the film themselves, but moved to prevent its release once they’d had the sobering experience of watching their own beyond-debauched behaviour on the screen. The fast-paced documentary goes into some detail of the experience for Frank but I wish I’d got to know more – it looks like it would be a fascinating tale of rock 'n roll excess and valiant efforts to cover it all up.
I wanted a lot more detail when it came to some other subjects touched upon in the film too, and I’m not alone when it comes to wishing that Israel - who has worked with Frank as an editor – had slowed things down a little. It’s very reflective of Frank as a person though, and it’s been said that the deliberately choppy editing and jukebox-style soundtrack give the film the distinct air of a “runaway slide show”. Israel has said that she took her cues for the overall vibe of the documentary from the subject itself, telling Nonfictionfilm.com: “I think personally that films should embody the feeling of what you’re trying to convey. So the form should actually follow that. And that’s what I went with because Robert is from the Beat generation and because his films and his photographs have a certain feeling and emotion, and like a rawness to them -- the film about him should also have that too. I think Robert Frank has that energy and his work has that energy and I made a film to go with that”.
Made by a friend and a fan, the film definitely feels true to the spirit of its eccentric, fun subject, who looks to be set to keep stirring things up for many years to come.
DON’T BLINK: ROBERT FRANK premieres Thursday 31 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
Watch the trailer here
Remote record here