This serviceable if somewhat glib documentary pays tribute to the photographer Douglas Kirkland, an industry veteran who has been around long enough to be famous for shooting some of the most iconic pictures of Marilyn Monroe (the very white ones where she’s basically just wearing a sheet). More recently, he’s photographed Elle Fanning, Michelle Williams and Sharon Stone, who all duly make themselves available to gush airy praise about working with him. Some of the actors he shot – particularly Williams, and Nicole Kidman – have intelligent observations to make about his method and aesthetic.
But if the film’s goal is, as it seems to be, to argue that he should be seen as a serious artist and not just an apparatchik of the publicity industry, maybe there should have been fewer vapid soundbites from interviewees such as Paris Hilton. She notes “how passionate he is about his photos and you can really feel that when you see them, so shooting with this legend was really incredible”. Er, thanks.
The film seems torn between puffery and serious profile, the final result likely to disappoint both parties: viewers who came for images of and interviews with famous people, and those who are actually interested in photography. Only glancing mention is made, for instance, of Kirkland’s preferred work tools apart from a sweet anecdote about him talking to an elderly chap about the Hasselblad camera he was using one day only to find out later that the interlocutor was Victor Hasselblad himself. It is mentioned in passing that he was one of the first major photographers to adopt digital, but there’s little discussion of how that shaped the work.
Many of the most interesting shots Kirkland took were while he was working as an on-set photographer, such as on Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Luhrmann and the set-and-costume designer Catherine Martin are among the most interesting interviewees here because they have some genuinely snappy, insightful things to say about set photography and cinematic storytelling. That’s an asset because while Kirkland himself is a spry 86-year-old and clearly a magnetic figure, he’s either not especially articulate or he has ben poorly served by the film’s director Luca Severi.