×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe

Novice helmer James Crump explores the complex relationship between two major forces in the photography world in "Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe."

With:
With: Patti Smith, Dominick Dunne, Tukey Koffend, Jeffrey Fraenkel, Eugenia Parry, Pierre Apraxine, Philippe Garner, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Jean-Jacques Naudet, John Szarkowski, Ingrid Sischy.
Narrator: Joan Juliet Buck.

Novice helmer James Crump explores the complex relationship between two major forces in the photography world in “Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe.” Seeking to restore Wagstaff’s significance not just to Mapplethorpe’s career but to the art market in general, Crump gathers an impressive roster of commentators and friends, though his narrowed focus means certain elements get passed over or misinterpreted. Still, he succeeds in capturing multiple aspects of a complex, charismatic man, ensuring play in art centers and fests before likely PBS broadcast.

Born into privilege and groomed for a life of conservative ease, Wagstaff chucked off his reputation as “the debs’ darling” and dove into the art scene, making his mark as an iconoclastic curator with exhibitions celebrating late-flowering Abstract Expressionism and burgeoning Minimalism. By the early ’70s, his interest in photography brought him together with the young Mapplethorpe, whose tastes were just beginning to form.

Their relationship, both sexual and professional, became a major force in the art world, propelling Mapplethorpe onto the international stage and providing Wagstaff with a co-participant in the liberating post-Stonewall gay scene. Integral to their partnership was Patti Smith, already Mapplethorpe’s muse and herself on the brink of stardom during this heady period.

A noticeable fixture on the auction circuit, Wagstaff championed anonymous photos before anyone else appreciated their value, and sought out works that challenged the viewer with a mixture of beauty and, at times, perversity. Crump and the talking heads he gathers (Philippe Garner is particularly incisive) make clear how formative Wagstaff’s collection was on Mapplethorpe’s own work, all agreeing that the collection itself, sold to the Getty Museum, should be seen as a form of self-portraiture.

Problems, however, arise in the over-analysis. Too much is made of a disconnect between Wagstaff’s patrician background and his attraction to sexual excess and drug culture, as if one is exclusive of the other. Art historian Eugenia Parry in particular delights in the nasty, over-interpretive soundbite, and everyone misses the boat in dismissing Wagstaff’s switch from photography to American silver. Wagstaff brought an appreciation of quality and beauty to everything he touched, but the commentators here all treat his world-class silver collection as a regressive aristocratic fancy.

Crump rushes over Wagstaff’s work as museum curator, painting Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum as a staid institution while ignoring the avant-garde groundwork of earlier curator Chick Austin. In the first quarter he has a tendency to toss too much into the mix, piling up stock footage from debutante balls to 1950s suburbia in the cinematic equivalent of footnote overload, but later on he finds his rhythm and does a fine job guiding the viewer toward Wagstaff’s untimely AIDS-related death in 1987.

With four credited lensers, tech credits inevitably vary and HD quality jumps from top-notch to adequate. The photographs themselves all sing from the screen, reinforcing Wagstaff’s seminal role in how these masterworks are appreciated today.

Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe

Production: An LM Media GmbH, Arthouse Films production. Produced by James Crump. Executive producers, Stanley Buchthal, David Koh, Maja Hoffmann. Directed, written by James Crump.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD), Christopher Felver, Harry Geller, Paul Lundahl, Eric Koziol; editors, Dave Giles, William Davis; music, J. Ralph. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Encounters), May 5, 2007. Running time: 70 MIN.

With: With: Patti Smith, Dominick Dunne, Tukey Koffend, Jeffrey Fraenkel, Eugenia Parry, Pierre Apraxine, Philippe Garner, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Jean-Jacques Naudet, John Szarkowski, Ingrid Sischy.
Narrator: Joan Juliet Buck.

More Film

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi displays

    Narendra Modi Wins New Mandate in Indian Election and Divides the Film Industry

    India has returned the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance coalition to power for a second term, with a huge mandate. In doing so, it polarized the film industry. The NDA won 351 seats out of a total of 542. The biggest democratic exercise in the world, more than 600 million Indians voted across six weeks. [...]

  • Director Dean DeBlois and online game

    'Dragon' Director Dean DeBlois and PUBG's CH Kim to Keynote 2019 VIEW Conference

    Dean DeBlois, director and executive producer of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” and PUBG Corporation CEO CH Kim are the first keynote speakers announced for the 2019 VIEW Conference in Turin, Italy, in October. Since it began 12 years ago, VIEW, which stands for Virtual Interactive Emerging World, has continually [...]

  • 'The Cordillera of Dreams' Review: Poetic

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Cordillera of Dreams'

    Rounding out his sublimely meditative, deeply personal documentary-essay trilogy on time, memory and the relationship of Chile’s breathtaking landscapes to its troubled human history, Patricio Guzmán delivers “The Cordillera of Dreams,” a haunting and allusive exploration of the cultural impact of the country’s most spectacular geological feature: its snowcapped mountain spine. Coming after the exploration [...]

  • Ari Emanuel Endeavor

    Endeavor IPO Filing Offers Details of Company's Financials, Leadership Pay Packages

    Endeavor’s IPO filing Thursday offers a hard look at the company’s financial performance during the past three years during a period of rapid growth for the company that’s home to UFC, WME, Professional Bull Riders and a clutch of other assets. Endeavor is generating solid free cash flow from operations and healthy adjusted earnings for [...]

  • Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala

    Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala: Mariah Carey, Kendall Jenner and Tiffany Trump

    Kendall Jenner caused a commotion when she arrived. Tiffany Trump went unrecognized until a member of the press pointed her out as she made her way down the carpet. And Mariah Carey flew in to perform a couple of songs. Welcome to this year’s AmfAR Gala Cannes, the AIDS organization’s annual — and largest — [...]

  • 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo' Review: Abdellatif

    Cannes Film Review: 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo'

    A simple but somehow atypical shot opens Abdellatif Kechiche’s new film: a serene closeup of a young woman’s face, as seen through the camera lens of Amir, a budding photographer still finding his perspective. Her expression is ambiguously tranquil, her long hair lightly rustled by a humid breeze, all softly lit by a sinking afternoon [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content