When documentary filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato began exploring who the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was for their in-depth documentary, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (Something’s Shocking: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures – A Miami Film Festival review), they began with about 100 interview subjects. After phone interviews with all of these sources, they whittled their pool down to 50 people they shot for the film, which recently had its East Coast Premiere at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival, ahead of its debut on HBO on April 4. Not all who they interviewed would make it into the film, but for those who participated, the filmmakers said the most challenging person to have cooperate with them was Mapplethorpe’s younger brother Edward Mapplethorpe. “He kind of lived in Mapplethorpe’s shadow,” says Barbato, “and I think he was kind of uncomfortable about dredging it all up again.”
They filmmakers said it was a question of building trust and once they got him, it opened a whole new layer of the film’s story. It was Edward who helped them also connect with sister Nancy Rooney. Over pictures of their time growing up in the suburbs of Queens, the surviving sister and brother talk of their famed sibling as a favorite of their mother’s and a person with a restless and creative soul who never quite fit into the suburban milieu of the ‘50s.
The film features curators, art collectors, journalists and even several of Mapplethorpe’s models. The first and most interesting of the models we meet is David Croland, Mapplethorpe’s first boyfriend after Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith parted ways. Bailey says, “I feel he was far more exuberant than we captured him on film.”
Both filmmakers, who we sat and chatted with over breakfast at The Standard Hotel in Miami Beach, light up talking about meeting him. They said he made the crew cookies, and they could have spent the whole day with him. At one point, Croland brought the pair of filmmakers to his wardrobe and showed them rows of clothes, including several robes, and asked them what they thought he should wear for the interview. Barbato says, “We were like, ‘Whatever. What do you think?’ But we were kinda of hoping he was going to wear the robe,” he adds with a laugh.
Personalities have long been key to the work of Barbato and Bailey, who have been making documentaries together since the ’90s, including exploring such subjects as Tammy Faye Baker (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and Monica Lewinsky (Monica in Black and White). They also revealed their next subject, a personality who has been making headlines during the current presidential primaries: Donald Trump, and no, there are no plans to interview him. “We’re not even going to bother with that,” says Barbato.
“You know the old adage, give someone enough rope, and they’ll hang themselves with it?” adds Bailey. “Everything that Trump says … it will reveal the man. It will reveal a psychotic liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist.”
* * *
You can read more of my conversation with Barbato and Bailey in the Miami New Times. Jump through the logo below to read what they said they discovered about Mapplethorpe in their research and some more of their candid thoughts on Trump:
We have plenty more coverage for the Miami International Film Festival. Unfortunately (or fortunately) much of it is spread out through other publications. Here are some links:
Here are a few capsule reviews I wrote for the Miami New Times:
Mid-festival, we hope to compile a diary entry of our experience so far and then at least one more post recapping the competition winners and more opinion on the films we caught (so far, we have positive opinions on all we have seen, though we might disagree on a couple).
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures runs 108 minutes and is not rated (but, like Mapplethorpe’s exhibitions, is for adults). There is one more screening of the documentary scheduled as part of the Miami International Film Festival: Saturday March 12 at 7:00 p.m., at the Regal Cinemas on Lincoln Road. For tickets click here.