Program 26: Mapplethorpe
Directed by Ondi Timoner
Anchored by a brilliant performance from Matt Smith (Doctor Who and The Crown), Mapplethorpe chronicles the life of iconoclastic queer artist Robert Mapplethorpe through the height of his career, sadly cut short by his death from AIDS-related complications in 1989 at the age of 42.
The film begins in 1967, when Mapplethorpe meets poet and punk rocker Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón). The two begin a romantic relationship and together move into Manhattan’s legendary Chelsea Hotel, which served as temporary home to some of the country’s greatest artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and actors over the decades. It’s here that Mapplethorpe discovers photography and first begins to embrace his own previously repressed sexuality.
Mapplethorpe dives headfirst into his new life, embarking on romances with handsome model David Croland (Thomas Philip O’Neill) and, later, art curator Sam Wagstaff (John Benjamin Hickey), who becomes the artist’s chief benefactor. He also finds himself creatively, building a following with his distinctive high-contrast black-and-white celebrity portraits, stilllife images of flowers, and explicit, defiantly homoerotic nudes inspired by the gay leather and BDSM scenes of 1970s New York City.
Director Ondi Timoner’s warts-and-all approach sees Mapplethorpe in all his complicated, controversial glory, often depicting the artist as petulant, egotistical, and selfrighteous. She examines how his restrictive Catholic upbringing influenced his fascination with the iconography of good and evil, though his relationship with his family always remained strained. This includes his complicated relationship with younger brother, Edward (Brandon Sklenar), who becomes Mapplethorpe’s assistant while setting off on his own career in photography (though Mapplethorpe insisted his younger sibling go by the name Ed Maxey professionally). She also doesn’t shy away from the sometimes uncomfortable relationship the artist’s work has with race. Through it all, Mapplethorpe remains a compelling figure with an undeniably outsized talent.
Mapplethorpe offers a fascinating portrait of an artist whose enduring legacy was in pushing boundaries and thrusting his audience into places far outside their comfort zone, as he blurred the line between beauty and obscenity.
— Adam Lubitow
AWARDS & ACCOLADES
- AUDIENCE AWARD, NARRATIVE 2ND PLACE – Tribeca Film Festival
- OFFICIAL SELECTION, CLOSING NIGHT FILM – aGLIFF: Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
- OFFICIAL SELECTION – San Francisco Int’l LGBTQ Film Festival
- OFFICIAL SELECTION – Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival