Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
In No Great Hurry: A Little More Exposure for Saul Leiter
has been a terrible year for photography.
For many, an important form of art and journalism has been debased by
the ubiquitous “selfie.” Can a curmudgeonly
but self-effacing octogenarian photographer rejuvenate viewer appreciation for
the art-form in the age of Kardashian vanity?
As a matter of fact, Saul Leiter can when Tomas Leach does his best to
profile his somewhat difficult subject throughout the course of In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with
Saul Leiter (trailer
opens this Friday in New York.
has been called the “Pioneer of Color Photography,” but he’s not buying it.
Frankly, he is rather baffled by Leach’s interest and remains not completely sold
on the whole notion of appearing in a documentary. Despite his rather modest appraisal of his
career, Leiter is relatively satisfied with the recent publication of his
book. Indeed, calling the late,
greater-than-he-thought photographer “unsung” might be an exaggeration. After all, at one point in the film Leiter
learns he has just been acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art (which he
thinks is quite nice, but does not exactly have him turning cartwheels). “Undersung” would probably be more accurate.
skeptical as Leiter is, Leach’s portrait of the artist is surprisingly
entertaining, in an appropriately low key manner. Somehow, the audience really gets a taste of
Leiter’s personality. We also get a
sense of how much history is represented by every pile of slides stacked up in
Leiter’s apartment. Frankly, someone
could probably make a deeply passionate melodrama about Leiter’s long, complex
relationship with model-turned-artist Soames Bantry, but we only get
tantalizing hints in INGH. Leiter only offers up tantalizing hints, but
piecing together his off-hand reminiscences is part of the film’s charm.
also incorporates many striking photos from Leiter’s oeuvre. Best known for his
street level city scenes, often shot through rain streaked store windows,
Leiter documented his Lower Eastside neighborhood as it developed over the decades. Although born in Philly, he became a
quintessential New York photographer. Although
there are several Leiter self portraits in INGH,
it is always impossible to make out his reflected features. In many ways, they are the antithesis of “selfies,”
but they are perfectly representative of Leiter’s work and personality.
By necessity, INGH is a small, quiet film, because Leiter would put up with just
so much. However, Leach’s conclusion
still manages to be wonderfully satisfying, yet totally in keeping with his
subject’s spirit. For those who love the
art form, it comes at an opportune time. Arguably, INGH is the best photography related documentary since (or maybe
even better than) How to Make a Book with Steidl, unless you count Bettie Page Reveals All (which is really something completely different). Recommended quit strongly for discerning
viewers, In No Great Hurry opens this
Friday (1/3) in New York at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.
Labels: Documentary, Saul Leiter