Stride up the Met’s steps—it’s been a while, we bet—and check out the current exhibit “Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans.” You will see what is, a half century later, still one of the most striking collections of black-and-white street photography: 83 images taken by the Swiss-born Frank during a cross-country road trip in 1955 and 1956. Frank’s foreign eye didn’t prove a hindrance (as many critics then complained) but a blessing, capturing Ike-era tensions with uncommon sensitivity—never with sentimentality or aloofness. In our own moment of digital snapsters, Frank is more important than ever.
Or, if you’re lazy, you could go to Film Forum and take in An American Journey, Philippe Séclier’s hour-long time-waster of a doc, which infuriatingly misses the point. Why would revisiting Frank’s locations (like some kind of art stalker) yield any insights? Sure enough, one Midwestern subject shrugs, unable to remember much of that boyhood day on the grass in front of the huge American flag. Townspeople of Butte, Montana, offer banal notes on their shifting economic fortunes. One of Frank’s assistants recalls him admitting to a fear of “getting my ass kicked” by a black man. Worst is Séclier’s blurry camerawork, an approximation of rawness that only makes you yearn for Frank’s definitive stillness. An accompanying Harlem-shot short, “In the Street” (1948), doesn’t compensate.