I barely got in, and had to sit in the front row for this screening, but it was really worth it. Amongst all the heartbreaking, depressing, serious films at Sundance, this one takes on a pretty trivial subject, and does it well. Plus, it was full of celebrity photographs!
Smash His Camera
Directed: Leon Gast
I went into “Smash His Camera” expecting it to be a conventional, glossy, professional documentary. There’s nothing wrong with typical documentaries – I enjoy them very much – but it’s always nice to see someone try something new. In many ways “Smash His Camera” follows the formula, but it is in the areas that the film departs from traditional documentary form that it becomes really interesting.
One departure from the usual is in the subject itself: here is a sympathetic portrayal of a member of the paparazzi. There have been a lot of films deriding these photographic parasites, pointing out how annoying they are, how untalented and unartistic they are, even claiming that the paparazzi have been responsible for deaths. But “Smash His Camera” focuses on one man – the man, really – who may have a despicable job, but is certainly not a monster. This film presents Ron Galella as the guy that really popularized celebrity photographs in the US. It’s easy not to like the paparazzi. It’s hard not to like Ron Galella. He has loads of money, lives in a ridiculously big house filled with boxes of negatives, and yet remains fairly good humored and – just a little – trashy. His house is decorated with fake plants, silk flowers, and plastic trinkets. He goes from celebrity to celebrity taking their pictures, annoying them, and then giving them a signed copy of his book. In other words, he’s quite charming!
My favorite aspect of the documentary was the departure it took from the traditional “talking heads” approach. After getting all his interviewees initial opinions, director Leon Gast places a bunch of people with strong, conflicting opinions in a room together and lets them hash it out. This is especially interesting when Gast gets the two lawyers together that argued in Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s lawsuit against Galella. It’s fun to watch people shit talk each other; it’s even more fun to watch them argue about all their shit talking.
“Smash His Camera” may not take on a heavy, life changing subject, but Gast’s representation of Galella is thoughtful and sympathetic and offers a new viewpoint on a profession we thought we already knew everything about.