Don't Blink - Robert Frank

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Don't Blink - Robert Frank
"Frank's energy, together with Israel's rapid fire editing, keep the film appealing, though they may leave some viewers feeling worn out."

At a time when the US is struggling to define itself and to understand how race and class define the lives of its citizen, the work of Robert Frank could scarcely be more important. Now in his early nineties, the photographer who wowed critics and the public alike with his seminal 1958 collection The Americans is still going strong and, as this work by his longtime editor Laura Israel reveals, he sill has a lot to say.

Frank's voice comes through vocally - often loudly - but also in his images. Blink and you'll miss it. Old friends from Allen Ginsberg to partner June Leaf share their insights and anecdotes but it is Frank who drives the film, with a barrage of images from every stage of his career. As he remains very much an active force, the film brings us up to date with his latest work and, though mostly linear, has a habit of cutting back and forth to point out threads that have developed over time. It's a technique entirely in keeping with the artist's own style and it gives the film an immediacy that sees all his images crowding together as if to define the present moment.

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Newcomers will be impressed not only by the diversity of styles Frank has mastered but by the vibrancy of his work, from that early tour through 51 states to the films he made with Jack Kerouac and later with the Rolling Stones. The film feels very busy with all of this going on and it's easy to overlook the fact that it doesn't go into much depth about anything, but that approach might be better suited to a television series. There's certainly a good deal here to enjoy, even for those to whom it is more familiar. Frank himself is sweeter than his reputation would suggest but still feisty, his keen intelligence coming through clearly in the ease with which he leaps between subjects and perspectives within a single scene. His energy, together with Israel's rapid fire editing, keep the film appealing, though they may leave some viewers feeling worn out.

As much as it is a portrait of Frank, this is a portrait of the US, at least in terms of its relationship with (predominantly East Coast) art and the philosophies around it are concerned. Frank is positioned as a provocateur yet his personal experiences, including sojourns abroad and the loss of two children, become characteristic of the tragedies of progressive America. The result is a turbulent film that doesn't always hit its mark but is consistently interesting in the attempt.

Reviewed on: 16 Nov 2016
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Documentary about the photographer.

Director: Laura Israel

Writer: Laura Israel, Melinda Shopsin

Starring: Robert Frank, June Leaf

Year: 2015

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: Canada, France, US

Festivals:

London 2016

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