Friday, November 09, 2007

Beyond Behind the Scenes

Freeze Frame

by Douglas Kirkland
Glitterati Inc., October 2007
352 pages/hardcover/450+ photographs/$50.00

Reviewed by Jain Lemos

Douglas Kirkland intrigues film and photography lovers with a fifty-year roundup of rarely seen intimate shots of actors and crewmembers taken on more than a hundred motion picture sets. Freeze Frame gets off to an auspicious start in the 1960s and accelerates without pausing right through the millennium.

At the beginning of his career, Kirkland quickly broke the code for shooting Vogue¬-style chic under Irving Penn’s guidance to land a staff position at Look magazine when he was twenty-five. In 1961, he hit photography’s equivalent of the Lotto Mega Millions jackpot when editors assigned him to photograph Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe. As Freeze Frame tells it, this wasn’t Kirkland’s once-in-a-lifetime win.

With credentialing from a coveted magazine Kirkland was granted more than the typical get-in-and-get-out access to top billing celebrities of the time. He spent a month with Judy Garland and went globe-trotting with Brigitte Bardot. Tall, good looking and affable, Kirkland is very noticeable; a trait photographers tend to avoid. Filmmakers and actors resent most outside intrusions, too. Had he—in addition to his images—been anything but wonderful, he wouldn’t have been asked back long after photography’s elite Golden Age magazines folded.

Freeze Frame includes many unpublished frames as well as some “produced” publicity and studio shots. The best images are the sincere ones where sparks fly between Kirkland and his subject. In 1972, a pensive portrait of Sophia Loren on the set of Man of La Mancha in Italy is intriguing. Shown from the waist up she barely emerges from a black wall yet Kirkland keeps both of her incredibly beautiful dark eyes as the central point. The effect is more striking than if he had shot her entire alluring body.

In a 1982 candid from Sophie’s Choice, Meryl Streep, who is gazing at Kirkland with lips parted, looks as though she’s made her pick and it is not either of her co-stars Kevin Klein or Peter MacNicol. Drew Barrymore stares so fixedly into Kirkland’s lens during the filming of Poison Ivy in 1992 one wonders what on earth he said to her seconds prior.

Kirkland’s image styling is remarkably innovative and energetic throughout five decades. Actor after director after super famous person, Kirkland slides into the lives of intensely focused artists and pulls out clutch moments of vulnerability and passion. Still, after finishing this retrospective, the photographs in Freeze Frame might have revealed more about Kirkland than his larger-than-life comrades. Talk about staying power.

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