Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2018. Boston Diva Productions, Interloper Films. Screenplay by Ondi Timoner, Mikko Alanne, based on a screenplay by Bruce Goodrich. Cinematography by Nancy Schreiber. Produced by Richard J. Bosner, Eliza Dushku, Nate Dushku, Ondi Timoner. Music by Marcelo Zervos. Production Design by Jonah Markowitz. Costume Design by Tom Broecker. Film Editing by John David Allen, Lee Percy, Ondi Timoner.
The famed photographer whose images continued to inspire controversy (and criminal charges) well after his premature death from AIDS in 1989 is put into the biopic machine and a familiar product is churned out. Matt Smith provides the only creative signs of life in this otherwise unmemorable affair, perfectly cast as the burgeoning artist who pursued a career in the arts at Pratt before he and Patti Smith (who, for some reason, here meets him in the park and not, as happened in real life, at school) moved into the Chelsea Hotel and began his long journey towards his destiny. Given a camera by hotel neighbour Sandy Daley (who is also, Tina Benko‘s excellent performance notwithstanding, portrayed wholly inaccurately), Mapplethorpe begins snapping photos that catch the right eyes and make him a name in gritty, sexy seventies New York City. His love affair with old-money Sam Wagstaff (John Benjamin Hickey) connects him with lucrative jobs and his career forks in two: he becomes as well known uptown for his gorgeous portraits of families and flowers as he does downtown for his explicit pictures of erect penises, his first major exhibition reflecting this duality by showcasing his pictures in two opposing galleries at the same time. From there his fame grows, his relationship with his younger, aspiring photographer brother Edward is difficult and his personality is corroded by success before the epidemic that defined gay life in the eighties comes to claim him. It moves with ease and is beautifully shot, but there’s nothing going on beneath the surface of the film’s beautiful imagery, it forgets to examine the struggle between Mapplethorpe’s more mainstream photos and his edgier stuff or take stock of what financial success brought to the quality of his work. It’s entertaining but it’s not particularly interesting, you’re better off watching either the HBO documentary or the excellent television movie about the case of the Cincinnati museum showing his works, Dirty Pictures by Frank Pierson.