dir-scr Ondi Timoner
prd Richard J Bosner, Eliza Dushku, Nate Dushku, Ondi Timoner
with Matt Smith, Marianne Rendon, John Benjamin Hickey, Brandon Sklenar, Mark Moses, Carolyn McCormick, McKinley Belcher III, Tina Benko, Rotimi Paul, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Thomas Philip O'Neill, Karlee Perez
release US Apr.18 tff
18/US 1h42
Art lovers: Hickey and Smith

smith rendon moses
thessaloniki film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mapplethorpe Writer-director Ondi Timoner spent more than a decade getting this biopic made, and her attention to detail shows. This is a boldly told story, skilfully capturing the style of the period as it recounts the life of iconic photographic artist Robert Mapplethorpe. And Matt Smith gives a strikingly loose, authentic performance as a man who, instead of adapting for the mainstream, brought the fringe right out into the spotlight, finding beauty in every corner of his life.

After disappointing his parents (Moses and McCormick) by becoming an artist, Robert (Smith) struggles to launch his career in 1969 New York. He teams up with fellow hopeful Patti Smith (Rendon), and they move into the Chelsea Hotel together. Then when Robert discovers photography, collectors start to notice his precise images, extreme as they may be. He also makes a deep connection with art expert Sam (Hickey), who gives him his first proper camera. But his sexuality scuppers his relationship with Patti, and his artistic restlessness prevents him from settling down with anyone else.

There's a lot of story here, and Timoner cleverly avoids rushing. The smooth narrative covers Mapplethorpe's early days in New York until his death at 42 in 1989, just after he designed a comprehensive show of his work and launched a foundation for emerging photographers and Aids research. It's a nuanced portrait of a man who was both gifted and rather difficult. And it's gorgeously shot in a grainy style that seamlessly mixes with period footage while offering stark contrast to Mapplethorpe's razor-sharp photographs, which feature strongly.

Smith offers a relaxed, cool physicality, playing this maverick in an offhanded way that quietly reveals his insecurities. His conflicting emotions are powerful, from wrenching sadness when Patti moves on ("If you leave me I'll become gay!") to the way he sleeps with virtually everyone as part of his creative process, then ignores Aids when it appears. Surrounding performances are equally complex, particularly Rendon, Hickey and Sklenar (as his photographer brother Edward), plus striking appearances from actors playing his iconic models, including Ken Moody (Paul) and Milton Moore (Belcher).

It's cool to see Mapplethorpe's memorable images being set up, some spontaneously and others painstakingly staged. And like the artist, Timoner revels equally in flowers, celebrities and extreme sexuality. Mapplethorpe saw all of these as equally beautiful, and it's fascinating to watch his evolution as an artist who was far ahead of his time. The world is still catching up.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality 7.Nov.18 tiff

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall