The Quiet Man by Jeffery Wells
I wasn’t expecting much from Shannah Laumeister‘s Bert Stern: Original MadMan. Everybody knows Stern as the sharpie who took those legendary semi-nude snaps of Marilyn Monroe (i,e. “The Last Sitting“) a few weeks before she died, but I didn’t know anything about Stern, the man. (Or madman.) But I wanted to.
Laumeister’s film started off like a typical blowjob profile so right away I was antsy. It showed Stern attending a Manhattan art-gallery exhibition of his work and being glad-handed by the swells and the hangers-on. And then a series of reputable authorities began telling Shannah what a visionary fellow Stern is/was/will always be. Blah blah blah.
But then it shifted gears and Stern started telling the story of his life, and before I knew it I was hooked. I began to feel relaxed with the guy and those big sad eyes and that quiet, low-key, matter-of-fact way of speaking. And then I began to learn about what he’s done and I realized soon enough that Stern really was one of the biggest portrait photography and zeitgeist-capturing ad visionaries of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. And perhaps one of the great nookie kings of that era. Jesus God, a kid in a candy store!
And then you learn about his weaknesses and drug problems and how he almost lost it all in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and then how he gradually came back. The measure of a good film is that you’re rooting for the main character, and that’s what happens here. You care for Stern, you like him, you feel close.
The doc works because Stern obviously loves and trusts Laumeister, who has been an off-and-on lover and close confidante since sometime in the ’80s. Stern has never given many interviews or submitted to any kind of probe of this kind, so apart from the fact that the film is moving and touching on its own terms it’s also an important thing to see because of how Stern’s life in ’50s and ’60s is/was quite the window in terms of understanding and sensing the vibe of that culture.
Stern’s ad and fashion photos (notably the Smirnoff campaign and Lolita‘s Sue Lyon sucking on that red, heart-shaped lollipop) are highly significant chapters in the annals of alluring, high-style Mad Men-era photography, particularly in the capturing of celebrities from that era as well as the ’70s and ’80s.
Bert Stern: Original MadMan began playing the festival circuit in September 2011 so it’s not new. But it begins showing commercially in NYC on 4.5 and then in Los Angeles on 4.19 and and will be all overthat month and into May. It’s really one of the best personal-profile docs I’ve seen a long, long while, almost on the level of Errol Morris‘s The Fog of War.
Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson makes an appearance during the last third, talking about the reaction to Stern’s nude photographs of Lindsay Lohan for New York magazine. You know, the ones that mimicked the “Last Sitting” Monroe photos?
I’ve been telling all my friends about Laumeister’s film. And I mentioned it during a phone interview I did yesterday with director Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly) because he told me his next film is about Marilyn Monroe from age 11 to her death, and I said “well, then you should see this Bert Stern doc” and he asked me a couple of questions about it.