Monday, April 5, 2010
The complexity of a longlasting professional and personal relationship is scrutinized in Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe (2007), directed by photography scholar James Crump. Patti Smith (middle still) plays an important role as storyteller in the documentary. Crump inventively uses photographs as evidence and to propel the narrative. Throughout, Wagstaff (top) is made out to be an unsung genius while Mapplethorpe is portrayed as an opportunist. After a fascinating life of curating, collecting, and rejecting his preppie backstory, Wagstaff left all he had to Mapplethorpe, who then established The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to "maintain Mapplethorpe's artistic legacy." The foundation website curiously fails to mention Wagstaff. Bottom still: a somber tribute to a generation lost to AIDS unspools at the end of the film.