When Robert Frank put out a book of his photographs called The Americans in 1958, it was panned by critics. They called him an angry, joyless, outsider. Today that same series of photographs is considered before its time, influential, seminal. The photos haven’t changed at all, nor the man taking them. It is only that the world has finally caught up. Frank, of course, is leagues beyond once again. He doesn’t wait on the critics, he just keeps creating.
After conquering photography, he experimented with it, and was drawn to documentary and experimental film. One of his longtime collaborators, Laura Israel, points the lens at Frank in Don’t Blink, and he’s not entirely comfortable with it. “I don’t want to be pinned by the camera – I do that to people, I don’t want it done to me.” Sure he’s a man of contradictions, but that’s how Israel knows she’s got her camera pointed in the right direction. Not just an artist, Frank sees himself as a hunter, always searching for his perfect photo prey, and all Israel has to do is casually capture his encounters.
Israel does an excellent job of capturing the man via his images. Flipping through some of the most famous ones, it’s clear that Frank himself is still the most interesting subject of all. He’s spent a life-time gazing at others, at people, places, things, but also at his own navel, which he reveals in his work, and reluctantly, through interviews for this film. Don’t Blink is more of a living portrait than straight biography, befitting of a man who never worked within an expected framework in his life.
Whether you know him as an artist or not, Robert Frank is a fascinating man who lived and worked alongside the beat poets and The Rolling Stones, who worked outside of expectation and often inside of grief. Israel’s documentary includes clips of his rarely-seen movies and a soundtrack that includes Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits. Structurally loose and rough around the edge, the film will surprise you with insight and unprecedented access.
This review first appeared at Cinema Axis.