Barnaby Clay (director)
21 July 2017 (released)
14 June 2017
This film documents the extraordinary career of Mick Rock, the self-styled ‘assassin’ of rock’n’roll photography. If you think you’re not familiar with his work, you’re wrong. He has captured some of the most iconic images of some of the most idolised and talented musicians of the last 45-plus years. And a vast number of those images have become, through their proliferation, indelibly associated with the popular perception of those artists. In the words of Barbara Kruger, “photography freezes moments, creates prominence, and makes history.”
Far from studying his subjects from afar, coolly objective and critically aloof, Mick’s approach was always intensely personal and immersive. On numerous occasions, this produced close and complex friendships, which fuelled the creative collaboration between the subject and Mick’s lens. The constellation of names is dazzling: Syd Barrett, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed – and that’s just the early 70s. He continues to work today, as passionately and energetically as ever, with some of the most acclaimed artists of recent times – again, too many to mention.
What makes this documentary such a rollicking ride, is the creativity and freshness of the approach taken by director Barnaby Clay. His first crack at a documentary subject, it really feels like the rulebook was given the ashtray treatment, right from the start. Mick is the narrative voice throughout, shooting from the hip, laughing and swearing his way through the anecdotes and his retrospective impressions. Mick’s own goosebump-inducing archival film footage is blended with brief, camp re-enactments, putting both the man and the work centre-stage, without resorting to any typical, ‘talking head’-style cross-examination. It is also unstintingly honest and direct about Mick’s copious drug-use and near-death from cocaine-induced multiple heart attacks in the mid-90s. All set to a breathtakingly entertaining soundtrack featuring all the artists current and past, whose music is now inseparable from the images Mick conjured of them: playing live, in the studio, their album cover artwork, or just hanging out – partying, fooling around, looking cool.
Thankfully, Mick’s recovery helped steer his career back onto a viable path, who presents as a gently grizzled, flamboyant and entertaining Dude, and seems in many ways remarkably unaltered from the floppy-haired Cambridge graduate he was when he began taking photographs. His continuing affection for the rebellious poetry of Rimbaud, the Romantics and the Beat Generation, that he studied at university, have helped to inform the experiences he has both captured and in which he nearly lost himself. And like any decent poem, which deserves to be read and re-read for pure nostalgic enjoyment, this documentary feels undoubtedly like a keeper. Seriously – I want a copy!