“I prefer to walk near the edge than down the middle of the road”, once said the pioneer photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank, who has been working with the director Laura Israel for more than 20 years now. Her personal acquaintance and contact with the ground-breaking artist enabled her to create a very precise and in-depth portrait of Frank.
Israel’s latest documentary Don’t blink – Robert Frank is a fascinating way to discover this brilliant and unconventional photographer. Transferring her enthusiasm and admiration for the artist to the audience, Israel takes us on an exciting journey to explore the photographic style and the artistic personality of Frank within the historical and political context in which the photographer emerged and developed.
Frank isn’t just another photographer; he is one of the most significant and influential artists of the 20th century; “the most influential photographer alive” as described by the New York Times Magazine. His radical and revolutionary methods broke the norms, challenged traditional forms and introduced plenty of innovation in photography. The Swiss-born photographer, an immigrant in the USA, travelled from state to state to capture the loneliness, the segregation and the harsh reality of American life. His book ‘The Americans’, published in 1959 in the US – probably his most famous work – was the result of a 9-month road trip, across 30 states, over 10,000 miles. Consisting of 83 black and white photographs, ‘The Americans’ was a pure and straightforward representation of the brutal American life and landscape, revealing the illusion of the American dream.
Apart from presenting the work of Frank, Laura Israel gives a comprehensive image of the mentality, lifestyle and ideology that defined his work: his connection with the Beat Generation culture in the 1950s (he had a close relationship to Ginsberg, Burroughs Jack Kerouac) and his collaboration with musicians like The Rolling Stones. His book ‘The Americans’, the introduction of which was written by Jack Kerouac, was regarded as a cinematic expression of the Beat generation. Although Frank might be more well-known for his revolutionary photography, from the late 1950s he turned to cinematography, directing a number of short films, such as Pull my Daisy (1959), a portrait of the Beat Generation, and Cocksucker Blues (1972), a chronicle of the Rolling Stones American tour in 1972.
Israel reveals a man with a highly rebellious and experimental personality even at old age. Shots of the now 91-year-old photographer in his apartment in Manhattan are mixed together with scenes from his own short films and his black-and-white still photographs. The director follows Frank’s cinematographic style: bold compositions, spontaneity, freedom in the frame and no strict composition rules. The documentary’s soundtrack, including music of Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Rolling Stones and Yo La Tengo, gives the final touch to the charming style of Robert Frank while creating a sense of nostalgia for the 1960s and ’70s, a period of political awareness and counterculture.
Don’t Blink – Robert Frank is part of the BFI London Film Festival, which is taking place right now – click here for more information about the event, including how to get tickets.
Finally, don’t forget to watch the film trailer below!