Feature film plumbs the early days of Robert Mapplethorpe

Mapplethorpe, The Director's Cut movie poster
Mapplethorpe, The Director's Cut

Mapplethorpe, The Director’s Cut is a must see

Mapplethorpe. It is a name that evokes a host of images, thoughts, memories from his luminous portraits, photos of children, flowers, and my favorites, sumptuous nudes and leather culture bringing beauty of form and kink into mainstream consciousness. Robert Mapplethorpe was a well-established artist. He was a part of the lost generation who succumbed to complications from HIV/AIDS in the early days of another pandemic ignored by a different sitting President.

Ondi Timoner’s new film Mapplethorpe, The Director’s Cut is the product of years of research. Timoner, a renowned queer director, first learned of Mapplethorpe’s work when she was 12, with a calendar of his flower photography. While her milieu is usually documentary film, this fictionalized feature-length film plumbs the early days of Robert’s meeting and relationship with Patti Smith, both nascent legends. Their early life together as one another’s muse, their move into the Chelsea Hotel with the moveable feast of artists, musicians, and models also on their way to the future is fascinating.

Robert’s relationship with his parents and the burgeoning free spirit inside—we see it all. We experience the highs and the lows when Robert meets Sam Wagstaff, renowned art collector, and his world changes. Forever.

This portrait of an artist is far from idealized. Every creative impulse, including the destructive ones, work together. The artist explodes into fame, then notoriety, then revolution. Nobody is perfect. Neither is genius. This inside look at an iconic photographer brings light, heat, and definition to an artist whose work is so familiar, yet few know about his life until now.

Shot on film, as was Mapplethorpe’s work, the vision has the patina of recollection. Matt Smith brings Robert’s genius for creation and discussion to life.

Marianne Rendón’s Patti Smith is louche and perfect. We see both of their passion for their art, what they want to say to the world and how that passion for each other’s art led to lifelong devotion, friends until death, and beyond.

Finally, John Benjamin Hickey’s Sam Wagstaff shares the wisdom and leavening that comes with a very different life experience, who is visionary in his own right. Timoner arrays these forces, and Smith lives the brilliance and damage Robert experiences and inflicts in this most excellent film. This is a must-see for current and future Mapplethorpe fans.