Bert Stern: Original Mad Man comes with an almost deceiving title. This documentary follows the career of Bert Stern, a man who took iconic photographs for both art and advertisement, and held the philosophy that he “wasn’t just taking a picture, we has creating an image”. He helped change the image of the advertising world in the early ’60s as it blossomed through its creative revolution. As told by director Shannah Laumeister, who is also his long time partner, the documentary plays out interview-style, with Stern recounting his career and personal life spilling some intimate details but also, it seems, holding back the real juicy stuff.
Stern worked closely with late Director Stanley Kubrick, whom he became good friends with while working at Look Magazine , and it was Kubrick who hired Stern to photograph the now famous Lolita publicity photos. Already on the road to success thanks to a successful Absolut Vodka campaign, his career was now solidified and he would move on to photograph the likes of model Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor, Drew Barrymore and most famously Marilyn Monroe. It wasn’t all glitz and glam however. Stern also talks about his personal relationships and his struggle with drugs and alcoholism during the peak of his career. Recounting his marriage to the American Ballet dancer Allegra Kent, who is also the father of his three children, he speaks with almost bittersweet reflection, discussing the breakdown of the marriage due to his excessive drinking and the often recklessness nature of his creative drive. For the most part, Stern comes across as a womanizer. He may have been a talented and creative photographer, but he definitely isn’t without his faults.
The most intriguing moments in Bert Stern: Original Mad Man, come when he is discussing his most recognizable works; Lolita and The Last Sitting , the famous series of photographs taken of Marilyn Monroe just weeks prior to her death. His recent attempt to stay relevant and creative by releasing these photos exploded, and he received a lot of backlash not only from the photographic and art community but from Marilyn fans as well.
While the film talks about his contributions to advertising, photography and film–his documentary movie Jazz on a Summer’s Day has some outstanding performances and is seen as one of the best jazz docs ever filmed–it is more about the man himself, his personal relationships and his demons. Stern doesn’t come across as very likable to us, or to the people who are speaking of him. But the one thing this documentary reveals is that he just doesn’t care if you like him or not.
Is Bert Stern: Original Mad Man Opening Weekend Worthy?
If you have an interest in the world of photography or advertising, or even if you’re curious about celebrity and fame, you will find this reflective documentary appealing and insightful. There seem to be quite a few docs about photographers circulating around these days, and while it may not be the best of the lot, it certainly doesn’t shy away from honesty, and that in itself makes for some interesting filmmaking.
Bert Stern: Original Mad Man opens at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Friday, April 19, 2013. Check the website for screening times.
Bert Stern: Original Mad Man trailer
Bert Stern: Original Mad Man Production Gallery
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