During the 1950s, O. Winston Link took gorgeous black-and-white photographs of the last American steam-powered trains as they rumbled through the night. His pictures were formal, elegiac and haunting. Link was already the subject of an admiring 1990 documentary by director Paul Yule, who now relates the true-crime scandal that unfolded in the photographer’s later years.
In 1982 Link, then 68, married Conchita Mendoza, a flamboyant 48-year-old fan. She aggressively promoted his work, earning him overdue critical acclaim and art-market prices to match. But in the early ’90s the couple went through an acrimonious divorce: Link claimed she’d imprisoned him in his basement darkroom while conducting an affair and stealing thousands of his photographs; Mendoza countered that he was an abusive pervert bent on destroying her. Following criminal proceedings, she did prison time for theft; in 2003 she had another legal run-in after attempting to sell missing prints on eBay. Link died in 2001.
Was anyone innocent in this sordid tale? In Yule’s depiction, it has all the greed and treachery of a Balzac novel, and the pathos, too. One complaint, though: Given that Link himself was a master of composition, it’s a shame the film has no more visual sophistication than an episode of America’s Most Wanted. (Now playing; Film Forum.) — Tom Beer