Harry Benson is an exceptional photographer who broke the glass ceiling with his work. He was able to get close to highly regarded people (politicians, celebrities) and extreme situations, and respectfully expose their vulnerability in unique ways.
Harry Benson’s iconic work has been chronicled in publications, which also include coffee table books. Matthew Miele and Justin Bare’s new documentary Harry Benson: Shoot First is essentially the cinematic version of a coffee table book equipped with a peppy pace and audio accompaniment from past subjects and miscellaneous admirers. If any documentarian could capture the exclusiveness of Benson, it’s Miele (who also directed this year’s glitzy Crazy About Tiffany’s). Miele definitely succeeds, but the film doesn’t exactly stand out in special ways.
Harry Benson: Shoot First often lets photo montages run the show, which allows the audience to clearly see the photographer’s work on a larger spectrum. However, the audio interviews add little insight and basically reinforce what we have already learned about Harry Benson. The famous personalities are only truly useful when they’re fleshing out the relationships Benson had with pop culture stars (The Beatles, Greta Garbo) and controversial figures (Donald Trump, Michael Jackson, Richard Nixon, Mark David Chapman). Interviews with Benson himself also come in handy, but are sometimes strangely clipped.
I’m lukewarm on this documentary, but I do recommend Harry Benson: Shoot First to anyone who has ever wanted to see the photographer’s catalogue on a different canvas.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie