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Don't Blink – Robert Frank

DON’T BLINK about “The Americans“ photographer Robert Frank isn’t a neat, chronological documentary but more an investigation into what goes into Robert Frank’s artistic process which includes wanderings and reacting to spontaneous ...

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“A sad poem from a very ill person“ is what Popular Photography wrote about Robert Frank’s photography book “The Americans” in 1959. Today Frank’s book is considered an outstanding work of street photography and one of the most influential photographic works in general. The Swiss photographer travelled across the 30 states for 9 months and photographed everything from the racism in the South, New York subcultures, backyards with rusty car wrecks in California, and assembly lines in a Detroit car factory – but most of all he shot people: on the street, at work, partying, going to funerals, sitting in bars. “The Americans” is a gritty poem capturing moments that are sometimes dangerous and off the cuff.

Documentarian Laura Israel has known Frank since the 80s. That surely helped in convincing Frank to participate in the film even though he actually hates interviews (and all other artificial situations). Israel’s film became a portrait that is a bit overwhelming in its abundance. Robert Frank’s photos and films flash by with an absurd tempo and a fantastic soundtrack (with the likes of The Mekons, Charles Mingus, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Johnny Thunders, and the Rolling Stones). The speed doesn’t give enough time to focus on each individual photo. Israel doesn’t stay on the known stations in Frank’s work for too long: the famous Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street” is casually mentioned as well as the Stones tour film COCKSUCKER BLUES which was never released due to a lawsuit and can only be screened three times a year in the presence of Robert Frank. But the film isn’t about Robert Frank’s greatest hits. DON’T BLINK isn’t a neat, chronological documentary but more of an exploration into Robert Frank’s artistic process that include ramblings and reacting to spontaneous inspiration.

Interviews and direct questions don’t bring about much with Frank. Israel asks what makes a good photograph and he answers: “it has to be in focus. Especially the nose.” Later on while having a relaxed conversation Frank reveals some of his strategy: you have to be quick and photograph people when they aren’t aware of it. The first image is often the best. Frank is less interested in technical perfection and more interested in the intensity of expression. Spontaneity has remained Frank’s motto which might also be a reason why the 90+ year old has remained so laid-back and lively.

Laura Israel is most interested in Frank’s earlier work, his private films, and the later photographs which he collaborated on with his second wife, painter and sculptor June Leaf. The images taken in a hut in Nova Scotia often includ Frank writing on glass or scratching film material as well as composing polaroids of panoramas. They are more private and emotional and process personal tragedies, primarily the death of Frank’s children: Andrea who died in a plane crash in 1972 and Pablo who had schizophrenia and died in 1994.

DON’T BLINK offers wonderful insights into the work of a very important and likable artist. Israel’s film is an absolute must for Frank fans and those who don’t know him will feel the need to seek his work out.

Tom Dorow (INDIEKINO MAGAZIN)

Translation: Elinor Lewy

Credits

Kanada/USA 2015, 82 min
Genre: Biography, Documentary
Director: Laura Israel
Author: Laura Israel, Melinda Shopsin
DOP: Lisa Rinzler, Ed Lachman
Montage: Alex Bingham
Distributor: Grandfilm Verleih
Release: 13.04.2017

Screenings

Screenings

  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles
English/with English subtitles
All languages

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