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Director's Cut of 'Mapplethorpe' Released Today Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

2 April 2021

The biopic Mapplethorpe, The Director's Cut directed by Ondi Timoner and starring Matt Smith as the photographer, is being released today on demand.

Mapplethorpe. As a boy, taking photographs in church [screenshot].

The new cut features an all-new soundtrack and previously unseen footage of the Mapplethorpe's childhood, his difficult relationship with his father and the Catholic Church and the nuances of his photo process and key relationships with Patti Smith and art collector Sam Wagstaff.

We had a chance to preview the release and very much enjoyed it.

The performances by Smith as Mapplethorpe, Marianne Rendón as Smith and John Benjamin Hickey as Wagstaff didn't hit a false note.

Matt Smith. The young Mapplethorpe.

And Timoner's screenplay didn't avoid any of the controversy surrounding Mapplethorpe while remaining tasteful in its presentation of the issues.

You are free to bounce between an appreciation of Mapplethorpe as jerk or genius as the movie takes us from his earliest play with a Brownie to his artistic growth using a Polaroid into his professional work with a Hasselblad to his dying days with AIDS in the 1980s.

Timoner has been criticized for that approach as lacking the drama of the photographer's life. But there is plenty of conflict portrayed in the film from his father's continual denigration of him to a guards refusal to allow him entrance to the Whitney when he can't come up with a full dollar to his meltdown over gallery owners not showing all his work.

With Patti Smith. Played by Marianne Rendón [screenshot].

Her approach is documentary. She aims for the gray area, inviting you to judge before you realize just how hard it is to call the genius a jerk or the jerk a genius.

Perhaps only the Catholic Church could have created a Mapplethorpe but that angle isn't explored as much as it is painted as a backdrop on his life.

His father, who taught him how to use a darkroom, is another story. He argues that without a technical understanding of photographer, Mapplethorpe can't be any good. And Mapplethorpe's brother Edward, played by Brandon Sklenar, brings that to the studio when he joins Robert in New York.

Sam Wagstaff. Played by Benjamin Hickey.

That's another conflicted relationship. Mapplethorpe insists Edward use their mother's maiden name when he strikes out on his own to avoid cheapening the brand. Only after Mapplethorpe's death does Edward use his own name again.

Timoner makes clear Mapplethorpe had enormous ambition. In his youth he wanted to be a Michelangelo and only adopted photography when he realized it wasn't an option for Michelangelo.

Does his work, which was almost exclusively black-and-white until the end, matter 30 years after his death?

In the Studio. With a Hassselbad Wagstaff gave him.

Holland Carter tackled just that question in his 2016 essay Why Mapplethorpe Still Matters. He concludes:

At one time, early on, in an entirely unsaintly way -- "I'm not attempting to make a social statement," he once said -- he challenged the sexual mores of his time and ideas of what art could and could not be. Much of his subsequent work will keep him popular: the flowers, the portraits, the beautiful bodies. But the pictures that kept him out of the Corcoran are the ones that will keep him in history.

Three years after his death the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, reacting to political pressure, canceled his traveling exhibit that included images of "extreme homosexual acts," as Carter puts it. Supporters projected the images on the building's facade in protest.

But Timoner makes it clear this achievement, which she doesn't question, came at a personal expense. He does have long-term relationships with Smith and Wagstaff but you don't get the sense it was reciprocol. Their capacity to care about him exceeded his to care about them.

These issues are explored in a half-hour interview with Smith and Timoner from 2019 when the film was initially released:

The expanded film, which is about half an hour longer than the original, is being released today on the following platforms: Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay, Kanopy, FandangoNow and Vudu.

It will certainly give you something to think about.

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