Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Laura Israel's DON'T BLINK -- ROBERT FRANK returns this singular artist to Film Forum

Back in 2009, New York City's indispensable arthouse cinema Film Forum offered a wonderful double bill: An American Journey: In Robert Frank's Footsteps coupled to a swell little short, In the Street, that featured photos taken in Spanish Harlem back in the 1940s. Beginning today, Wednesday, July 13, and running for a full two weeks at Film Forum, photography/art-film connoisseurs can get their fill of Robert Frank via the new documentary from Laura Israel entitled DON'T BLINK -- ROBERT FRANK.

During the course of this 82-minute documentary, Mr. Frank, now 91 years old and shown above and throughout below, muses that his moving pictures are not as accessible to most audiences as were his photographs. TrustMovies must count himself among those audiences, as he find the photos, especially those from The Americans, simply phenomenal, while the movies range, in his opinion, from slapdash fun to not much at all.

Still, TM would just about give up his left ball to be able to see Frank's legendary movie, Cocksucker Blues, about and with The Rolling Stones, which has never been released theatrically but will have two screenings at Film Forum at 9:50 PM on Wednesday and Thursday, July 20 and 21. (Order soon, if tickets even remain available.)  One might imagine that any film about Robert Frank ought to be generously endowed with gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, and sure enough, Ms Israel (shown at right, and the director of the surprising and disturbing 2012 wind-energy documentary, Windfall) has given us a good dose of exactly that.

Her movie about Frank, his life and career, also manages to capture much of the looney-ness, charm and oddball, alternately under-wraps/exhibitionistic kind of talent Frank had in his younger days. Now, in his more-than-senior years, the guy seems to have grown jollier and less angry (or maybe he's just worn down). Israel also captures the rhythm -- jazzy, beatnik, playful -- of the man and his work, making the film seem even more of a collaboration than the principals might have imagined.

Don't Blink bounces from scene to scene, decade to decade, oeuvre to oeuvre, giving us finally more of an overview than anything in-depth. We view snippets of Frank's films -- from his first, Pull My Daisy, to About Me: a Musical and Candy Mountain (the latter appears to have been Frank's one attempt at a full-length, 35mm, more-or-less independent/vaguely mainstream movie).

We get less of a sense of what's these films entailed than we do of the constant struggle the filmmaker had as he was making them. Of the man's personal life, we learn a lot -- of his decades-long relationship with wife and fellow artist, June Leaf, above, and of his (their?) two children Pablo and Andrea, both of whom died young (the latter in a plane crash, the former I am not certain, but perhaps via suicide?) -- but again without going deeply into anything.

Frank-ophiles should come away from the movie pleased at having seen so much of their hero, while those of us less familiar with the man than with his early photography will still find a lot to like and learn. Intercut with present day and archival footage is one particular interview that Frank gave decades earlier that Israel returns to time and again, in which the artist seems annoyed at having to do the interview yet eventually spills some interesting beans about his life, art and raison d'etre.

In terms of Frank's artistic quest, Don't Blink may put you in mind of Samuel Beckett, had Sam been a bit more manic. Toward the end of this odd little romp, the artist tells us, "Keep your eyes open, don't shake, don't blink," which may be his advice to budding photographers, even though he long ago gave up his career (and for many of us his crown) as a, maybe the, great photo journalist.

From Grasshopper FilmDon't Blink--Robert Frank opened today, July 13, at Film Forum in New York City for a two-week run. Here in South Florida, it opens on July 22 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, and on July 29 in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica Film Center. To see all currently scheduled playdates, with theaters and cities listed, click here.then scroll way down and click on WHERE TO WATCH.

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