Barnaby Clay’s Shot, a celebration of and caution against rock-and-roll extravagance, centers on a handful of justly famous photographs shot by Mick Rock. Here’s a ghost-pale Lou Reed on the cover of the Transformer LP, a live-onstage image that, thanks to a happy accident in the processing, looks like it could have been an illustration or stencil. There’s Freddie Mercury, on Queen II, severe and shadowed, in tribute to a 1932 still of Marlene Dietrich. And there’s Bowie himself, onstage (performing spirited cunnilingus upon Mick Ronson’s guitar strings) and off: Rock’s footage of the young star on-the-make smoking and laughing in a green room is worth the price of your ticket. Clay’s film at its best sets Rock, the house photographer for glam rock and early punk, loose to tell us how he came to capture or create these photographs and reels. I’m thankful to have discovered the connection between the group shot on the back of Talking Heads ’77 and Children of the Damned.
Rock speaks touchingly of his friendships with Bowie, Reed and Syd Barrett, as well as his addictions. But the thousands of other faces and photos he shot pass much too quickly; sometimes we get quick glimpses of them hanging on the walls of a corridor of the mind that Clay has Rock wander through. The footage shot specifically for this film can’t be as inspired as the work that made Rock famous, of course. The talking heads (lower case) are fine, but the dream-drama music-video theater piece of Rock on a gurney while nurses and doctors consult around him takes too much time away from the reason people want to see this: what Rock saw. Alan Scherstuhl
Shot!: The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock
Directed by Barnaby Clay
Opens April 7, Metrograph