×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Don’t Blink: Robert Frank’

Laura Israel's documentary offers an exhaustive and somewhat exhausting portrait of the famed photographer and director.

With:
Robert Frank. (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4779036/

The title of Laura Israel’s “Don’t Blink: Robert Frank,” a biographical portrait of the famed American photographer and director, refers to its subject’s persistent dedication to capturing life in all its unkempt, impromptu glory. It also, however, seems to allude to the sheer pace of Israel’s documentary, which employs an unconventional editorial style involving rapid-fire collages of Frank’s still photos, his later avant-garde movies, and recent footage of the artist (as well as of friends, colleagues, and his wife, June Leaf). It’s a unique, associative blend of sounds and images that aims to convey details as well as underlying truths about Frank’s life. Unfortunately, it also often leaves one feeling aesthetically pummeled to the point of exhaustion, and portends only limited commercial appeal for the project outside die-hard Frank aficionados.

Israel has been collaborating with Frank on experimental film and video works since the ’90s, and her intimate knowledge of his artistic process is reflected in “Don’t Blink’s” confident assemblage. The photographer’s black-and-white photographs are spliced together to the beat of scuzzy rock music, and complemented by contemporary snapshots of Frank working in his office and talking about his career in front of an apartment wall featuring projections of his films. The result is an immersive blur through which Israel not only pays tribute to his images’ beauty and power — specifically those that focus on the faces of everyday people in spontaneous moments — but attunes her documentary to the creative rhythms of Frank, a man driven by let’s-try-anything daring and a conviction that, in both work and life, a man should always be moving forward.

Amid this medley, more traditional biodoc details emerge in something resembling chronological order: Frank’s early years as a Swiss boy inspired to take up photography by his father; his initial time in New York and his formative trip to Peru; his groundbreaking creation of “The Americans,” a 1958 collection of evocative, socially and racially charged stills that pioneered modern photography techniques; and his subsequent segue into alternative cinema, first with 1969’s “Pull My Daisy,” and then with a series of less-known efforts rooted in his interest in outsiders — as well as his own family, and particularly, his daughter Andrea, who tragically died in a plane crash at the age of 21 in 1974, and his mentally ill son Pablo, who passed away in 1994.

“Don’t Blink” covers that vast array of material with feverish jazziness, so that snippets of information appear and disappear in a virtual flash, accompanied by a few textual notes — on title cards, or superimposed onto archival footage — that provide a tidbit here, an anecdote there. Thus, topics ranging from “The Americans’” widespread influence on the photography world at large, Frank’s collaboration with the Rolling Stones on the 1972 doc “Cocksucker Blues” (and “Exile on Main St.,” for which he provided the album cover), or the reasons he separated from first wife, Mary Frank, and, with his second wife, relocated to a remote shack in Mabou, Nova Scotia, are all glossed over so quickly that the film seems at once dedicated to dutifully addressing the big points of Frank’s life, and disinterested in seriously considering any of them.

“Don’t Blink’s” wealth of commentary from Frank himself (in both past and present chats) helps communicate his humanistic fascination with everyday experience, as well as his desire — further cultivated from his time with Beatnik legends like Alan Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac, the latter of whom wrote “The Americans’” intro and “Pull My Daisy’s” narration — to constantly seek new modes of expression. Unfortunately, by its midway point and beyond, Israel’s kindred attempt to create a novel form for her biography becomes tiresome.

That’s partly due to the fact that her film fails to make the case for Frank’s own movies (such as 1971’s “About Me: A Musical,” 1985’s “Home Improvements,” and 2004’s “True Story”) as particularly revolutionary, or for that matter, noteworthy. But ultimately, it’s that, while her editorial acumen is undeniable, her methods bestow the proceedings with an assaultive punk-rock quality that, like punk itself, is only sustainable in short bursts, causing “Don’t Blink,” even at a scant 82 minutes, to wear out its welcome long before its finished.

Film Review: 'Don't Blink: Robert Frank'

Reviewed at New York Film Festival, Sept. 24, 2015. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — U.S.-Canada) An Assemblage Films presentation in association with Arte France. Produced by Melinda Shopsin, Laura Israel.

Crew: Directed, written by Laura Israel. Camera (color/B&W, widescreen, HD), Lisa Rinzler; editor, Alex Bingham; music supervisor, Rachel Fox; executive music producer, Hal Wilner; art director, Bingham; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital); supervising sound editor, Christopher Koch; re-recording mixers, Christopher Koch; animation motion graphics, Chelsea Smith.  

With: Robert Frank. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Gone With the Wind Screening

    Film News Roundup: 'Gone With the Wind' Sets Event Cinema Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Gone with the Wind” sets a new record, “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” is acquired, and Tracy Oliver signs with Topic Studios. EVENT CINEMA RECORD More Reviews Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’ Sara Bareilles Premieres New Songs, Declares Love for Obama at Intimate L.A. Show The 80th anniversary [...]

  • Made in Abyss - Journey’s Dawn

    Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’

    It’s a Herculean effort to take a multi-volume manga like author Akihito Tsukushi’s “Made in Abyss,” adapt it into a popular anime television series, and then compress the show into a coherent feature (technically, two movies), but the folks at Sentai Filmworks have done just that. Part one, “Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn,” will screen [...]

  • HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market

    HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market Winners

    Eighteen prizes were presented on Wednesday afternoon at the closing ceremony of the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. The project market sits alongside FilMart as part of the Entertainment Expo in Hong Kong. “Wong Tai Sin Assassination” to be directed by Wong Hoi and produced by Derek Kwok Tsz-kin, was named the winner of [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Makes Concession on Film Financing in Agent Talks

    The Writers Guild of America has made a concession in film financing in its negotiations with Hollywood talent agents — the second in six weeks of talks. WGA West executive director David Young said Wednesday that it had made a “significant move” toward reaching a deal with the Association of Talent Agents for a revamped [...]

  • Noah Centineo He-Man

    Noah Centineo to Play He-Man in 'Masters of the Universe' Reboot

    From a boy (who’s loved) to He-Man. Noah Centineo is in talks to take on the superhero in Sony Pictures and Mattel Films’ “Masters of the Universe.” More Reviews Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’ Sara Bareilles Premieres New Songs, Declares Love for Obama at Intimate L.A. Show Brothers Adam and Aaron Nee are [...]

  • Disney Fox Takeover Placeholder

    Disney, Fox Employees Grapple With Day One Transition on Two Hollywood Lots

    What kind of a boss will Disney be? That’s a question facing employees at 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, National Geographic Partners, FX Networks, and other assorted parts of Rupert Murdoch’s former media empire. Wednesday was their first full day as staffers of the Walt Disney Co. and the initial moves have done little to [...]

  • Derek Tsang Hong Kong actor Derek

    'Better Days' Director Derek Tsang Lands in World Cinema Spotlight

    Hong Kong actor-director Derek Kwok-cheung Tsang has recently found himself in the spotlight of the world of cinema, but for the wrong reason. Tsang will be joining a Hong Kong filmmakers panel at FilMart on Thursday with Sunny Chan (“Man on the Dragon”) and Pang Ho-cheung (“Love in a Puff”). The 39-year-old filmmaker was expecting [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content