Smash His Camera – Movie Review

An entertaining and thought provoking film with more celebrity pictures, and interviews, than you can shake a stick at.

Although you may have forgotten many of the Ron Gelella pictures you have seen, he is part of your life. He is the man who snapped the iconic picture of Jackie Kennedy, the one of her walking across the street with her hair blowing lightly in front of her face. It is priceless. He calls it his Mona Lisa.

He is the king of the paparazzi, the candid camera man without compare. His photographs of rock stars, movie stars and other celebrities are the best shots of them in existence. They do not like it, and they do not like him.

However, the fact remains, the pictures he has taken of them on the sly, jumping out like some flasher from cars and abandoned buildings, are the best.

Ok. The guy is weird. Or is he? The lawn around his house in New Jersey is covered with plaster deer and rabbits which is a little weird, but not necessarily weird for New Jersey. As a photographer, he is strictly business. When he is gatecrashing at a celebrity event he dresses nice. Not that he cares how he looks, but camouflage is important.

Sometimes cutting a hole through Katherine Hepburn’s hedge is required, but he tries to minimize the damage. It is all about professionalism.

To get coveted shots of Liz and Richard in London, on their yacht docked in the Thames, he allowed a security guard to lock him into a warehouse next to the river for the weekend. It turned out the place was infested with hungry rats. He was so terrified he could not even sleep.

But he got the shots, the best in the world. Liz and Richard draped curtains completely around their yacht so nobody could see in. Ron’s vantage point from the upper floors of the warehouse gave him the perfect shots of the two stars and their bevy of rich and famous celebrities that they paraded through their boat for the weekend.

A treasure trove of pictures, but watch out for the vermin.

Galella takes us back into the very bowels of his storerooms, showing countless boxes organized and filed with meticulous care. They are stacked in shelves that groan under the weight of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of old-fashioned, just plain photos, before the digital age revolutionized photography.

The boxes have the person’s name and are sub-divided into other boxes with that person with other persons. It is a fantastic matrix of interlocking stars, their relatives, loved ones, friends and cohorts, referenced and cross-referenced with some arcane system half science and half magic. He can find them all; they are his children.

Although the film is made with his complete cooperation he allows the filmmaker Leon Gast to explore the kinky side of photojournalism a bit. When it came to Jackie the man took so many photographs he has probably forgotten ninety percent of them.

The question is: Did he have to take fifty thousand to get the one masterpiece, or would he have taken the fifty thousand even without film in his camera? Was there some point at which Ron the obsessive fan overtook Ron the hyper-dedicated photojournalist?

Being a photographer, Galella has it all down when it comes to putting the story of his life. He has the shots taken directly after Marlon Brando broke his jaw and took out five of his teeth.

The photos are to Ron’s credit, but the candid interview with Dick Cavette, who was standing next to Brando the night of the assault, is to Leon Gast’s credit. This is the kind of investigative filmmaking that separates the great documentaries from the ho-hum docs.

By the way, if you have not yet seen Gast’s classic fight documentary “When We Were Kings” about the world championship rumble in the jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, get it on the Netflix list immediately, if you have an ounce of documentary appreciation in your body.

It is one of the greatest films ever made, documentary or otherwise.

Galella’s insights into the art and science of guerilla photography are hilarious—he is as candid as his photography. An hour into this film and you know you have met somebody completely different.

For film aficionados with an appreciation of either classic documentaries or photography this film is a must-see. It has a similar format to the Joan Rivers film “JR: A Piece of Work;” a one-person show, but that one person is worth the time.

Beyond the pure entertainment and star-worship the film raises important questions about the place of public photography in America and the responsibilities people shoulder when they become “celebrities.”

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Directed by: Leon Gast
Release: July 30, 2010
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 90 minutes
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color