Smash His Camera

Smash His Camera


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Leon Gast - also responsible for the excellent boxing documentary When We Were Kings - turns the camera on the 'original' US paparazzo Ron Galella with the same sort of gimlet gaze.

Although Galella may not be a household name, if you've been anywhere near the Hollywood A list for the past 40 years, you'll be more than familiar with his tenacity. A man for whom the word 'no' is merely an invitation to find a way past it, he has spent a life trailing around the streets of Manhattan, catching unguarded snaps of the rich and famous. Now a seriously wealthy man and living in a house "like Tony Soprano's" he is still as driven as ever to capture the perfect picture - on actual film, not via a digital camera - and has an archive that is who's who of Hollywood spanning back almost half a century.

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Galella is no shrinking violet, undercover paparazzi type - he is the sort of kid who likes to stay in the picture, carving himself a larger-than-life persona right from the get-go and taking on those who want to stand in his way.

Gast's documentary has an effortless charm, aided greatly by Galella, who is quite the character. But this is no hagiography - there are plenty of people here who are willing to call him a "slug" and worse.

Perhaps more interestingly, Gast also cleverly broadens out the scope of the film so that, by examining Galella's particular fondness for Jackie Kennedy and her court-driven attempts to stop him snapping her, a debate on privacy and freedom of the press is opened. If someone is in a public place, do they have a right to demand privacy? Galella would argue we have a right to see the rich at play but there are others who say his ability to stay as "tight as the bark on a tree" to someone is a serious hinderance to their every day lives. Jackie Onasis is particularly interesting in this regard, since she became notable for whom she was married to rather than by courting the limelight as an actress would.

In the world of entertainment, however, there is some degree of evidence that were it not for photographers like Galella snapping their every move, many of these 'stars' would fall a lot more quickly from the public consciousness, so much so that now there seems to be an increasing move towards 'posed casual' shots. This artificiality is something Galella clearly dislikes, since it is the spontaneity of the 'pap-snap' that he thinks holds the key to shooting "their souls". There is balance here and the argument against the paparazzi - and specifically Galella's techniques - is made, but the snapper is so passionate about the subject, it's hard not to find yourself siding with him, or secretly cheering him on as Gast documents how he set out for pictorial revenge against Marlon Brando, after the mercurial star punched his teeth out. Although whether you would feel that way with his unrelenting lens pointed in your general direction is debatable.

Gast's presentation is super-slick and surprisingly dynamic for a film concerned with still images. He lets his camera rove over shots from Galella's archive, and achieves the neat trick of lingering long enough so that we are able to appreciate the artistry but no so long that the action loses momentum. These 'gallery' shots also widen the subject of the documentary still further, as we see many who have passed through the public eye and into obscurity, while the artistry of the man who captured them remains.

A snapshot of a life, a gallery of a lifetime of Hollywood and a close up look at the ephemeral nature of the fame game. Fascinating.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2010
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Documentary about the 'original' paparazzo, Ron Galella.
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Director: Leon Gast

Starring: Ron Galella

Year: 2010

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US

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