Tomas Leach’s documentary In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter is as pleasant and unaffected as its very modest subject, the photographer and painter considered to be a pioneer — along with Robert Frank and Diane Arbus — of the 1940s-’50s New York School era of photography.
Leiter, who died in late November just a week shy of his 90th birthday, is sometimes ill at ease in front of the camera; he adjusts his hat obsessively, chuckles at his own jokes, and scoffs at Leach’s questions about his legacy and influence.
Uncomfortable with the books and MoMA showcases that have featured him — and often ostracized him from jealous peers — he demands to see a final cut of In No Great Hurry before its release.
But occasional irritability aside, Leiter is indistinguishable from the many lovable, eccentric, lifelong Manhattanites still seen strolling cheerfully around the Lower East Side. He’s endearingly scatterbrained, nice to his neighbors, and he never leaves the bohemian neighborhood he’s occupied for 60-odd years.
Fortunately, In No Great Hurry never succumbs to cutesy hagiography. The darker side of Leiter’s past can be discerned in his ruminations on his on-again, off-again romance with the late model Soames Bantry; in his pained hesitance to straighten up his cluttered apartment, which is brimming with Bantry’s journals; and in his reflections on his religious Jewish father, who was “more interested in intellectual achievement than kindness.”
Leach lets Leiter’s low-key dysfunctions speak for themselves. He doesn’t overanalyze, and he’s dazzled as we are with Leiter’s unique ability to capture happiness in urban art, rather than wretchedness.