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  1. #1
    Flotsam's Avatar
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    W. Eugene Smith Documentary...sort of

    I just finished watching the PBS Film/Documentary, "W. Eugene Smith: Photography Made Difficult".
    I really enjoyed it. Interesting on so many levels, especially to those who recognise the equipment and processes. An hour and a half long and they really only managed to scrape the surface of this complex and gifted man. I wish that they had gone into more depth in interviewing his assistants who worked and travelled with him. I'm sure that they could have given some fascinating insights.
    Above all, it is a film about photography, told through a talented, obsessively dedicated, photographer. It can't help but make you ponder your own relationship with photography.

    My advice: Get it on DVD (I got it from Netflix) and keep the remote in your hand with your thumb on the pause button. It is heavily illustrated with Smith's photographs and I was constantly pausing to spend more time viewing them than the editors allowed.

    It came out in 1989 so I'm sure that I'm late to the game on this. I'd like to hear opinions from others who have seen it.
    That is called grain. It is supposed to be there.
    =Neal W.=

  2. #2
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    Flotsam,

    Great review. Thank you. Convinced me. I just bought it on eBay, though there it is shown as 2002. For anyone who wants to do the same, beware of the lowest price. Their shipping is 3x the other sellers. They also have a lower feedback rating. Funny how that works.

    John Powers

  3. #3
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    I've been renting documentaries of photographers from Netflix, too! I enjoyed this one on Gene Smith. And you are right... they never linger on the photographs as long as I would like to!

    There was one on Paul Strand that wasn't very satisfying, and one on Avedon that was quite good. I have one in the queue on Stieglitz to look forward to!

    Seen any others?

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    I've had mine in VHS long before 2002. A great movie. If you have not done so the best book ever written about any photographer is "Lines and Shadows" the Smith biography by Jim Huges.

  5. #5
    ann
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    Hmm,

    i got the video years ago, and couldn't stand to watch it; the reenactment of his life was the issue with me. Acting was bad, perhaps i need to drag it out and revisit to see if i have changed. It was a real disappointment as i love his work.

    Suzanne, if the stieglitz one is called " An Eloquent Eye", it is beautiful. the photos left me with a heart ache.

    I collect these types of video's and DVD to show my classes. What a delight to be able to go back and rewind lol
    Last edited by ann; 09-02-2006 at 10:21 AM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: correction
    http://www.aclancyphotography.com

  6. #6
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    Ann-- I'd agree the reenactment part wasn't my favorite, and normally I like Peter Riegert (I think that's who it was). But I think you get a sense of Smith's life and struggles from the interviews of those who knew him.

    And I think I'll move the Steiglitz one to the top of the queue!!

  7. #7
    Flotsam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ann
    Hmm,
    i got the video years ago, and couldn't stand to watch it; the reenactment of his life was the issue with me. Acting was bad, perhaps i need to drag it out and revisit to see if i have changed. It was a real disappointment as i love his work.
    I agree that it was an odd choice to make it part docudrama, part documentary. I wish that I knew where they came up with some of the words that the actor said. Were they Smith's, or more dramatization? But I found it easy enough to accept those scenes for what they were and enjoy the interviews, the timeline of his life, and of course, the many photographs. You should view it again and try to overlook the dramatization parts and enjoy the rest. I think that there is still enough there to make it worthwhile.
    That is called grain. It is supposed to be there.
    =Neal W.=

  8. #8
    Flotsam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Suzanne Revy
    And I think I'll move the Steiglitz one to the top of the queue!!
    Not if I get there first
    That is called grain. It is supposed to be there.
    =Neal W.=

  9. #9
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    The biography of Smith by Hughes is entitled "Shadows and Substance".

    "The Eloquent Eye" about Stieglitz is good, and is not just about photography,
    but also the artists he and Steichen "talent-spotted".

    I believe all of the words spoken by Peter Riegert in "photography made difficult" are quotes from letters or other written material. Certainly I came across much of that dialog in my reading about Smith.

    Finally, if you want to hear actual audio (and see a little bit of video) about Smith, there is a short (about 30min) documentary about Smith's Pittsburgh project by Kenneth Love called "Brilliant Fever". Don't know if it's still available, my mother got me a copy thru one of the Carnegie museums years ago.

    In one of the threads here, I think it was on the one about the Brett Weston DVD, I did a braindump on all the photographer documentaries I know about....
    "I bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright

  10. #10
    Bill Hahn's Avatar
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    Here's what I wrote on the Brett Weston DVD thread:

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Here's a partial list of the photographer documentaries I'm aware of:

    "Paul Strand: Under the Darkcloth" DVD and video
    "W. Eugene Smith: Photography Made Difficult" DVD and video
    "Walker Evans' America" apparently video only
    "David Plowden: Light and Shadow" DVD and video
    "American Masters: Ansel Adams" DVD
    "Remembering Edward Weston" video, don't know if it's available on DVD
    (Brief footage of Cole, Brett and Charis Wilson)

    "Brilliant Fever" video made in Pittsburgh by Kenneth Love about W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh project.

    "The Adventure of Photography" - 2 DVD set, I believe originally done on French TV. Lots of historical nuggets, and some errors.

    "90 degrees South" - DVD made of Herbert Ponting's presentation of his still and moving (!) pictures from the 1911 Scott expedition to Antartica.

    "Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life" - apparently video only

    ....and I'm sure there are plenty of others. Of these, my favorites are "A Visual Life" and "Photography Made Difficult"....

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In addition, let me say that besides "Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life" (now availalbe on DVD) there are two additional DVDs available from the filmmaker Meg Partridge: "Outta of my Light", a wonderful documentary about her father, Rondal Partridge, son of Imogen Cunningham, and "Portrait of Imogen", a short documentary showing pictures of IC with accompanying audio form IC herself. When I ordered these, I wound up talking to the filmmaker herself; I'm afraid I gushed compliments like a love-stricken school girl....

    The Avedon DVD "Darkness and Light" is quite good too. Particularly when John Lahr starts reviewing the contact prints of a portrait session of his father Bert Lahr (played the cowardly lion in "The Wizard of Oz"), and starts to weep...and then explains why.
    "I bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright

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