Leon Gast’s documentary, which was originally broadcast on HBO, focuses on the notorious paparazzo Ron Galella, who achieved a degree of fame in the 1970s via controversial run-ins with a few of his celebrity subjects.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis took Galella to court several times following his obsessive stalking of the former First Lady and her children, while Marlon Brando expressed his displeasure with the photographer via a swift punch to Galella’s jaw. (The photographer lost five teeth but won $40,000 in an out-of-court settlement.) Galella’s infamy and ubiquity on the celebrity circuit became so pronounced – he was as much a part of New York’s Studio 54 as the disco ball and cocaine parties – that no less a figure than Princess Grace once good-naturedly joked about him when he failed to show up at one of her New York gala events.
Today, the septuagenarian shutterbug limits his work to formal red carpet events and the endless self-promotion of his books and gallery shows. Galella has no shortage of anecdotes and an overflowing archive that he is too eager to share, and the film exploits both to the fullest.
While Galella comes across as a cheerful but tacky character, the severity of his tactics and the quality of his photographic work is vigorously debated throughout the film by a series of careful admirers and unimpressed critics. Ultimately, Galella’s work is more interesting than the man behind the camera – and the inability of several young gallery patrons to identify the 1960s and 1970s icons photographed by Galella offers an inadvertently cynical statement on the ephemeral nature of fame.