Robert Frank's Real America

The photographer who changed the way we look at—and depict—ourselves.

Perhaps the total involvement of The Americans exhausted Frank's interest in photography. He was already working with Kerouac and painter Alfred Leslie on his first movie, Pull My Daisy, when The Americans was published—and has expressed no small ambivalence toward the youthful enterprise that has remained his defining achievement. Both exhibit and catalog end with a section called "Destroying The Americans." As curator Sarah Greenough notes, Frank's relationship to his famous creation is "inextricably linked with his innate suspicion of success, his abhorrence of repetition," and "a restless desire" (that some might call quintessentially American) "to push his art in new ways."

Although not many of them travelogues, Frank's subsequent movies often share The Americans' sense of being a stranger in a strange land. A number of these are screening this fall at the Met, including the never-released, 1972 Rolling Stones documentary Cocksucker Blues, in which, for one shining moment, Mick Jagger finds himself in an actual Southern juke joint (and thus inside The Americans), and the 1987 feature Candy Mountain, an end-of-the-road film co-directed with novelist Rudy Wurlitzer that, with its northern journey from Lower Manhattan to deepest Nova Scotia, is essentially a disappearing act that mirrors Frank's own.

A few years later, Frank made a masterful, if little-seen, video piece, C'est vrait!, composed of a single hour-long shot taken mainly from a beat-up van that repeatedly circles through the artist's Noho neighborhood. More than Candy Mountain, this declaration of truth parodies even as it expunges the memory of the artist's long-ago trip from sea to shining sea.

Parade—Hoboken, New Jersey
Robert Frank
Parade—Hoboken, New Jersey

Details

'Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans'
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Through January 3, 2010

'Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans'
Edited by Sarah Greenough
National Gallery of Art/Steidl

'An American Journey'
Directed by Philippe Séclier
Lorber Films
September 30 through October 6, Film Forum

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