Smallscreen Reviews

Review: 'Smash His Camera' Ron Galella and Jackie O, a love story

By April MacIntyre Jun 6, 2010, 8:32 GMT

Review: 'Smash His Camera' Ron Galella and Jackie O, a love story

Jackie O and Ron (r) caught stalking the elusive American icon, courtesy of HBO

HBO delivers a brilliant documentary which garnered enthusiastic notice at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival on Monday, June 7, 2010 at 9 pm/ 8c.  

Leon Gast’s “Smash His Camera” is a buoyant look at the larger-than-life persona of photographer Ron Galella.  The documentary is more than a biopic, more complex as Gast's cobbled rare interviews and wonderful montages of photographs reveal the stunning, recognizable artistry of Galella and the right (or not) to invade the privacy of a public entity.

Hearing Bronx native Ron Galella talk about his storied life is a real treat and presented in a high energy, well-crafted film which is as much a retelling of his trailblazing celebrity journalism ways as it is a love story for two women (Jackie O and his wife Betty).  

Gast's 'Smash" is a snapshot of a vibrant time in American life, when disco reigned and the famous were truly famous, not reality TV D-Listed dithering dilettantes and addled starlets. 

Andy Warhol loved Galella, and even Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art sings his praises as a gifted photographer.

Galellas Mona Lisa courtesy of HBO

Galella's "Mona Lisa" courtesy of HBO

Affable charmer Galella, an energetic and creative New York paparazzo, was sued by Jackie O and slugged by Marlon Brando. His photographs today are black and white works of art highly sought after by curators, and one would imagine even admired by the put-upon stars Galella stalked mercilessly.  Galella never took a bad shot of anyone.

It was our continental First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who truly made Galella a household name back in the day, as Galella himself muses his lack of a girlfriend at the time was probably the reason he ardently stalked his jet-setting elusive brunette prey.

Insightful interviews are culled from Floyd Abrams, Dick Cavett, Thomas Hoving, Betty Burke Galella, Peter Howe, Martin London, Stuart Schlesinger, Paul Schmulback, Liz Smith and the late Ed Bradley who all marvel at the artistry, energy and humor of his stark celebrity compositions and share anecdotes giving context to Ron's work, the iconic stars and the times. 

Especially poignant was Liz Smith's musings that despite their contentious legal wranglings, Jackie O might have actually had feelings for Ron and even posed for him in some ways.

Galella's wife Betty used to buy his pictures as VP of a Washington 'zine. "She had a soft voice on the phone, like Jackie, always laughter in her voice" said Ron of Betty.  "I never thought she would be a beautiful girl," he added, sharing a story of how they first met. "When I laid eyes on Betty, she WAS beautiful!"

"I'm gonna marry you," Gallela told Betty, and he proposed marriage to her in five minutes upon their first meet.

Now at age 78, Galella still is hot for the "get" as he delightfully gives "Ron's tips" that include shooting fast, forging credentials and invites, sneaking into events and never checking your coat.  Galella hid in bushes, coat racks, behind walls and lurked until he got the shot.

Delightful voice-over accompanies Galella and his wife Betty, who tells documentarians, "Ron is a tight as the bark on a tree," laughing about his love of planting fake evergreens, silk and plastic plants dipped in polyurethane.

Galella made light of the fact Brando previously knocked his teeth out by wearing his helmet, courtesy of HBO

Galella made light of the fact Brando previously knocked his teeth out by wearing his helmet, courtesy of HBO

"Big daddy" Galella takes us on a tour of his Sopranos-styled Jersey manse, meeting his beloved pets, "clean" house bunnies and extensively archived photographic catacombs while regaling us with memories of the Studio 54 and the 80's, the heyday of Galella's run as top paparazzo and his marvelous Marlon Brando stories.

If you were alive in those Galella heyday decades, this film evokes both a melancholic and happy flood of memories.  It was an optimistic, effervescent, long-gone era when stars seemed more glamorous and scarce by today's TMZ "catch Lindsay at LAX" tripe. Seeing the elder Galella relegated to a red carpet queue by a controlling publicist was a sad indictment of how the joie de vivre has been sucked out of photographing the famous today.

“Smash His Camera” gives a supremely talented old snapper his due and makes us reflect on our American life and freedom of the press: past, present and future.

Make sure you catch this engaging film on HBO, Monday June 7.

April MacIntyre is Monsters and Critics' smallscreen and people/celebrity editor who loves to snoop around in makeup trailers when she can. You can follow her on Twitter.

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