In his day, paparazzo extraordinaire Ron Galella was a legend. A true believer in the art of tabloid photography, he was decked by Marlon Brando and sued by his favorite victim, Jackie O.; this is a man who’d employ ingenious stratagems (like attending then-preteen JFK Jr.’s school Christmas pageant to snap his famous mother) in the pursuit of the perfect pic. Once considered a showbiz parasite, the 79-year-old photographer with the Bronx accent and the palatial Jersey estate is now in the institutional stage of his career, complete with a book, a gallery show and guardedly friendly exchanges with subjects.
A docu-portrait that accompanies Galella on contemporary shoots sounds like the ultimate in vrit boredom, but lucky for Leon Gast (When We Were Kings), his subject has plenty of juicy stories. So do Galella’s peers, who love him and hate him in equal measure, and Gast’s film takes off only when it recounts past conquests and grudges. Undermining the “triumphs” are discussions about the legal and moral ambiguities of the stalker shutterbug’s relentless tactics, though it’s hard to work up too much sympathy for the rich and famous being subjected to unwanted attention. Worse, Galella’s real crime goes conspicuously unmentioned: feeding the cult of celebrity while stoking a public appetite for empty gossip as news.—Andrew Schenker
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