Filmmaker Leon Gast turns his camera on Ron Galella, the famous celebrity photographer who stalked his subjects and supplied the tabloids with their hottest shots of famous people who wanted their privacy. During the course of his long and productive career, Galella was slugged by Marlon Brando, sued by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and often slurred by other photographers. But he kept shooting, and shooting, and shooting. And, as we see in Smash His Camera, Galella wound up with an archive of millions of photos that document New York celebrity life for decades.
A New View of Celebrity
Gast interviews leading New York culturati and media honchos -- Graydon Carter, Thomas Hoving, Liz Smith and others -- as well as lawyers who've prosecuted or defended Galella in court and who are engaged in First Amendment rights issues, and a roundtable of Galella's photographer peers to put Galella's work into context and to establish the stature the world's most famous paparazzo has achieved during his decades-long career. Galella is generally deemed a mediocre cameraman, at best, and his behavior is generally viewed critically, but he's persisted despite the disapproval, and captured the world of New York celebrities as no other photographers have done.
Many of the photographs shown in the film, as Galella releases his book and mounts an exhibition of his work, are familiar images -- Woody Allen with his hand up to block the shot, Michael Jackson's hand protruding from the protective shield of an umbrella, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with Ari, or her children, or glancing at the camera as she strolled across the street. Great art or not, the photos have all the allure of celebrity and, we're every bit as obsessed with celebrity as Galella is. We may not shoot the photos, but we sure do buy them.
Galella Is A Surprisingly Appealing Character
By reputation and from some of the commentary in the film, you might expect Galella to be extremely rude and crude, a borderline sociopath. Surprisingly, he's quite funny, sort of charming and appealingly honest about his lifestyle, goals and foibles. Now in his late 70s, Galella still obsessed with taking celebrity candid shots and goes out regularly on his missions. He is adept at staking out celebrity hot spots and sneaking in to private parties where he continues to pop out from behind bushes or coat racks to shoot his subjects -- anyone with a well-known name is game. He's quite generous with advice, and provides a verbal primer about what you have to do to You wouldn't want to be pursued by him, but have to give Galella props for persistence.
Galella's quirky humor is captured by Gast and the film's editor, Doug Abel. For example, after Marlon Brando slugged Galella (a famous incident: Brando knocked out five teeth), the photographer started wearing a football helmet for on-the-job protection. He's also fond of planting plastic foliage in his Italian garden, which surrounds his New Jersey home that's been described as neo-Sopranos.
All in all, Smash His Camera is a highly entertaining and engaging biodoc. It does, too, touch upon issues concerning First Amendment rights, privacy issues and obsession with celebrity -- but the issues are presented in a very gentle way. They never pop out at your from behind bushes or coat racks.
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- Title: Smash His Camera
- Directors: Leon Gast
- US Theatrical Release Date: June, 2010 (limited)
- Running Time: 87 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Location: USA
- Distribution Company: HBO