Streaming spotlight - snappers in cinema

We look at real and fictional photographers caught on film

by Amber Wilkinson

Rear Window
Rear Window
It was World Photography Day on August 19, so this week our streaming spotlight is putting the focus on snappers at the cinema - both fictional and real. Catch up with last week's streaming spotlight on heist films here and, if you're still looking for inspiration, check out our latest Stay-At-Home Seven. Got a topic in mind that you'd like us to cover? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter.

Bill Cunningham, New York, YouTube, Amazon and other platforms, from £2.99

Photographer Bill Cunningham became such a fixture in New York up until his death in June 2016, at age 87, that he was named a "living landmark" in 2009 by the city's Landmarks Conservancy. Richard Press' superior documentary gives a good idea as to why. Whether he was riding his bicycle round NYC, capturing the latest fashion trends at ground level or attending high-society bashes with the rich and famous - for his New York Times columns On The Street and Evening Hours - Cunningham's enthusiasm and attention to detail were the same. Press gets up close to Bill, following him not just as he goes about his work but at home, where it also celebrates his fellow residents of apartments above Carnegie Hall, who are threatened with eviction thanks to gentrification. More than a mere snapshot, this gives a real sense of what drove Cunningham to be one of the best at his game.

Shooting The Mafia, Amazon Prime and other platforms

Documentarian Kim Longinotto captures the polar opposite of Bill Cunningham's street photography as she turns her camera on octogenarian Italian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia, who has spent 40 years documenting poverty and the brutality of the Mafia in Sicily, with a notably feminist slant. Featuring long interviews with Battaglia, Longinotto, who has always had a knack for intimacy with her subjects, considers the photographer's life as well as her work. It's a sweeping ride, from the tricks of Battaglia's trade, to how she came to be involved in the sometimes grisly business of documenting murder. Battaglia is a magnetic presence and her own story is as compelling as those she has brought to attention through her pictures. Read our interview with Kim Longinotto and her long-time editor Ollie Huddleston.

The Omen, Amazon, NowTV and other platforms from £3.49

Jennie Kermode writes: One of the best horror films of the Seventies and one of the best religious horror films made to date, this story of an American ambassador (Gregory Peck) who inadvertently adopts a baby destined to become the Antichrist is celebrated for its performances, atmosphere and score. Key plot elements hinge on the presence of society photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner), who inadvertently stumbles on an odd photography effect that shows up in pictures of those close to the child and fated to die. When he spots it in an accidental picture of his own reflection, he's prompted to team up with the ambassador in a desperate search for the child's true origins and a means of bringing the evil associated with him to an end. He's just a small player on the film's grand stage and he knows it. For all the anguish of Peck's performance, it's Warner who truly humanises the film and makes it resonate with the audience.

Jim: The James Foley Story, GooglePlay, Amazon and other platforms, from £3.99

Jennie Kermode writes:James Foley - known to friends and family as Jim - is best known to the public for the manner of his death, held as a hostage and then executed by Daesh. This documentary, made by his friend Brian Oakes, tells the story of who he was as a person, and it's a fascinating tale in its own right. Jim's passion for photography and videography, and the generous way he worked with others, means there's lots of footage of him and lots of interviewees who thought of him as a good friend, including a fellow hostage. He's mother's contribution is particularly poignant, reflecting on how he was drawn to war zones and centres of conflict, how at first she tried to dissuade him but came to recognise the value of his work and why it meant so much to him. He's shown as starkly aware of his privilege, guilt-ridden and sometimes naive, yet through this film one of his ambitions is achieved: drawing attention to the struggles of others.

Peeping Tom, Amazon Prime, GooglePlay and other platforms, from £2.49

Jennie Kermode writes: A scandalous film when it came out, not least because it incorporated British cinema's first glimpse of a naked breast, Peeping Tom remains a challenging work today. Following a young photographer who makes his living working for sleazy magazines and, in his spare time, murders women with a spike attached to his camera because he's excited by the sight of their fear, it draws its power from the way that it implicates the audience in his crimes - we are, after all, sharing in the experience of watching terror for entertainment. Deliberately objectifying yet never overly sympathetic to its protagonist, whom Carl Boehm depicts as socially awkward and deeply troubled, it builds tension from his tentative flirtation with a neighbour (Anna Massey) whose survival we are encouraged to hope for. There's an astute examination of the relationship between cinema and violence here, which remains every bit as pertinent today.

Rear Window, Amazon, GooglePlay, NowTV and other platforms, from £2.49

Six year's before Peeping Tom, Alfred Hitchcock explored the notion of shared voyeurism in this Oscar-nominated thriller that sees James Stewart's housebound photographer LB "Jeff" Jefferies become obsessed with viewing his neighbours through a lens. We look at what Jeff looks at and see what he sees as he begins to suspect a neighbour (Raymond Burr) of murdering his wife. Set in the confines of Jeff's apartment in the oppressive heat of summer, Hitchcock - who had already proved he could make a virtue of the confines of a single set in Rope -  imbues his film with the claustrophobia of dead air on a scorching day. Each of the characters Jeff spies on are perfectly drawn, so that we feel we're watching a whole world of stories as he bounces his theories of his nurse (Thelma Ritter) and girlfriend (Grace Kelly). The tension, like the heat, never slackens and Hitch's moniker as the "master of suspense" has rarely been more fitting.

Photograph, Curzon Home Cinema, Amazon and other platforms, from £3.49

Romance blooms across the class divide thanks to a camera in Ritesh Batra's slow-burn drama. The camera in question belongs to Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a street photographer struggling to make ends meet in Mumbai. One day he takes a snap of rich young woman Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), using it to concoct a story of romance for the gran pressuring him to wed. It's a clever set-up that sees him end up convincing Miloni to play along for the day - after which things get complicated. Batra carefully constructs his film around a strong sense of longing - from the simple pleasures of kulfi to the prospect of a fresh start. Warm hearted and generous to its characters, his film builds to a moving climax. Read our interview with Ritesh Batra about the film.

We've picked a short documentary this week, Charlo Johnson's Sober Minds, a profile of Irish wildlife photographer Paul Hughes that features plenty of interesting observations about his craft.

Sober Minds [2017] Short Documentary from Zimmerhands Films on Vimeo.

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