Features
Reviews
Must Hear Music
Reviews Archives
Archives
Bargain Basement
Downloads
Music DVD
Upstart
Pipsqueaks
 
 
 
Features
Reviews
Archives
Send Us Mail
Contact Us
 
 

War Photographer (Unrated)
First Run/Icarus Films
Official Site
Director: Christian Frei
Producer: Christian Frei
Cast: James Nachtwey, Christiane Amanpour, Hans-Hermann Klare, Christiane Breustedt, Des Wright, Denis O’Neill

Rating: out of 5


Auto Focus (R)
Sony Pictures Classics
Official Site
Director: Paul Schrader
Producers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Todd Rosken, Pat Dollard, Alicia Allain
Written by: Michael Gerbosi
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Ron Leibman

Rating: out of 5


Now on screens are two movies about the life-changing power of photography. Christian Frei’s War Photographer is about James Nachtwey, who, for the past 25 years, has documented several lifetimes-worth of suffering in places like Ramallah, Kosovo, and Rwanda. Paul Schrader’s Auto Focus is about Bob Crane, of “Hogan’s Heroes” fame, whose evolution from family man to sex addict and pornographer ended with his 1978 murder in an Arizona motel.

Combat photographer Robert Capa said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Frei accompanied Nachtwey for two years as he documented horror and misery. Nachtwey seems reluctant to be on camera. You sense that he agreed to participate only to bring these stories of suffering to a wider audience, so clearly does he prefer that attention focus on the work. There’s not much to say about his artistry, though some photographs are strikingly composed. This isn’t about aesthetics. It’s about being in the moment, and Nachtwey has been, in spades. In his few comments, Nachtwey tells us that he couldn’t get Robert Capa-close without being accepted by the people whose tragedies he photographs. This acceptance, he says, comes from his respect for them and their situations.

He doesn’t shy away from admitting that he began partly for a “… sense of adventure and facing danger and feeling other people’s authentic emotions…” That’s given way to his sense of mission. Nachtwey also now documents the lives of destitute peoples. Though his images of war and its after-effects are no picnic, the real shockers are his photographs of skeletal famine victims in Africa, Indonesian children earning their daily bread by gleaning in garbage dumps, and pared-down, coughing sulfur miners of Kawah Ijen. Nachtwey balances concern over making his money and his name as a “vampire with the camera” against his subjects’ complicity. “… By allowing me there to photograph it, they’re making their appeal to the outside world and to everyone’s sense of right and wrong.”

He photographs conditions whose existence shames us all. Nachtwey rightly says, “We must look at it. We’re required to look at it. We’re required to do what we can about it.” But all through this feel-bad movie I kept looking at the clock, thinking, “I am so bored.” (I have long suspected Americans can take anything except boredom.) War Photographer fails to settle on a subject. It’s about Nachtwey, but not really, since he takes a back seat to his work. That leaves a documentary about world injustices, but not really, since we get pictures without context or subjects to follow and identify with or calls to action.

Frei uses nifty microcams to get us as close to the action as Nachtwey’s camera, but there’s no techno-solution to get us close to the photographer. Interviews with other journalists provide few insights. Much of what they relate—he’s calm, composed, never cynical—we can dope out for ourselves, just from watching. Still, the film only lives and breathes during these interviews, particularly during the segment with war videographer Des Wright. This devastatingly candid Brit expresses admiration for Nachtwey in one sentence and in the next reveals that, unlike the mission-driven Nachtwey, he has absolutely no idea why he does this work. Now there’s a human.

Human nature can be messy. In the late 1960s, LA radio personality Bob Crane took the lead role in a weekly TV comedy about a WWII POW camp, and the rest is unbelievable history. Everything the nuns and your parents told you about sex is true! Well, the stuff they told you about the coarsening effects of over-indulgence is true, anyway.

Crane was your average, Banlon-wearing, suburban father of three with a couple of obsessions: playing drums and taking pictures. The minor celebrity gained from playing Colonel Hogan brought opportunities to indulge his obsessions. Always a collector of girlie mags, Crane is introduced to the swinging life by John Carpenter (Dafoe), a technophile he meets on the studio lot. Carpenter invites him to strip joints, and before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Crane is sitting in as drummer with the strip-joint band. Soon it’s a nightly diversion, and though his priest advises him to remove himself from occasions of sin, Crane barely puts up token resistance. With Carpenter as his Tonto, he makes a new conquest every night. His marriage crumbles when his wife Ann (Wilson) discovers the infidelities. In the midst of all this shagging, he courts and marries co-star Patti Olson (Bello), who accepts his extracurricular activities. Eventually, that marriage dissolves, leaving Crane with only his buddy Carpy, who’s in and out of favor like that lover you just can’t make a clean break from, and a cast of thousands of bedmates.

But it’s not just nookie. Carpenter also introduces Crane to the brand new technology of video tape recording, leading the boys to document their exploits. The one-two punch of sex and photography formed a feedback loop that rendered Crane insensible to all other concerns. The new video technology fueled his licentiousness like gasoline on a fire.

Auto Focus fixes its lens on Crane and Carpy, two buccaneers not that far removed from the Wild and Crazy Guys of SNL fame (except they score. a lot.), giving the audience no sense of the sexual revolution they were operating in. Auto Focus begins with bright, sharp images and gradually becomes as grainy and dark as Crane’s sex tapes as he descends further and further into addiction. It’s a fascinating movie, with a no-fear performance by likeable Greg Kinnear that will provoke uncomfortable laughter as well as admiration. He perfectly conveys cluelessness. Crane tells Patti that he just “wants someone who gets me,” unaware that he doesn’t get himself. His lack of self-awareness means he only sees one perspective. He begins showing others his sex photos, meticulously cataloged as to date and city. When his agent (Leibman) tries to warn him that his lifestyle is imperiling his Disney gig, Crane scoffs: “I’m normal. Sex is normal. I’m normal.” Pretty soon people aren’t returning his calls, and Crane is back on tour, doing dinner theater and anything in a skirt, right up until that fatal night.

War Photographer and Auto Focus concern the world evolving technologies make it possible for us to experience, and two men’s uses of those technologies. Nachtwey’s images bring it all home, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, as the saying goes, with the reminder that every man’s death diminishes us because of our shared humanity. Crane’s photography put blinders on him, whittling his worldview down to that biological basic—the pursuit of sex. What, I wonder, would Crane make of Chris Rock’s take on marriage: “Want to cheat. Can’t cheat.” Were he alive today, one can have no doubt that Crane, that ardent follower of technological innovation, would be chafing his withered loins in front of that porn paradise, the world wide web. One approaches a truer definition of obscenity when weighing the unemotional sex of Auto Focus against the sufferings depicted in War Photographer. Too bad neither film succeeds in making its subject known. A thousand pictures, not enough words.

—Roxanne Bogucka

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



Pink Floyd

-------


South By Southwest 2014
David DeVoe

South By Southwest 2013
David DeVoe

Red Hook Music Festival
George Dow

SXSW 2012
David DeVoe

Our Favorite Records 2011
Hybrid Staff

AWOLNation
Rachel Fredrickson

Kanrocksas
Rachel Fredrickson

Warped Tour 2011
Rachel Fredrickson

Eddie Spaghetti
Melissa Skrbic-Huss

Murder By Death
Mike DeLeo


Mike Doughty
Boulder, CO

Epilogues
Denver, CO

Imagine Dragons
Denver, CO

Sebadoh
Cambridge, MA

Young Magic
Denver, CO

Warped Tour 2012
Denver, CO

Thrice
Denver, CO

Mike Doughty
Denver, CO

MuteMath
Kansas City, MO

Other Lives
Lawrence, KS

Los Campesinos
Boston, MA

The Civil Wars
Lawrence, KS

Ha Ha Tonka
Lawrence, KS

Thrice
Lawrence, KS


 
hybridmagazine.com is updated daily except when it isn't.
New film reviews are posted every week like faulty clockwork.
Wanna write for hybrid? Send us an e-mail.
© 1996-2009 [noun] digital media. All rights reserved worldwide. All content on hybridmagazine.com and levelheadedmusic.com is the intellectual property of Hybrid Magazine and its respective creators. No part of hybridmagazine.com or levelheadedmusic.com may be reproduced in any format without expressed written permission. For complete masthead and physical mailing address, Click Here.