Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank arrived in the U.S. during an era of ostensible optimism, but The Americans, his seminal 1958 photo-essay portrait of his adopted country, was at once wildly alive with discovery and reeling with postwar disillusionment. The work's rough-hewn beauty, restless gaze and arresting critique foreshadowed Frank's transition to cinema. It was already almost a road movie.
Hold Still - Keep Going, the latest in TIFF Cinematheque's Free Screen series, offers a rare opportunity to sample Frank's lesser-known but formidable filmography.
The 28-minute Pull My Daisy (1959) features lively appearances by Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso and playfully nattering narration by Jack Kerouac. Beat cred aside, this inventive inaugural effort is more a curiosity than a definitive statement. More rewarding are the bracing personal works accompanying Daisy in a shorts program. Conversations In Vermont (1969) and Life Dances On (1980) both deal with Frank's children, one of whom perished in a plane crash, while the other spent his life struggling with mental illness.
Other highlights include several experimental videos and Frank's first feature, the fiction-documentary hybrid Me And My Brother (1965-68).
But the hot ticket is unquestionably Cocksucker Blues (1972), his notorious all-access documentary about the Rolling Stones on tour in North America. It's the best rock 'n' roll movie that no one's seen, apart from seldom-circulated samizdat VHS copies.
Hotel rooms become sites of vandalism and intravenous drug use; a private jet becomes a petri dish for venereal disease, hosting orgiastic hijinks that aren't entirely discernible from acts of sexual assault; in the greenroom there's always someone doing a bump; during a road trip in the rural South, Frank's camera notices a handmade "Repent now" sign that everyone else appropriately ignores.
Offstage Olympian hedonism aside, the musical performances are electrifying, especially a medley of Uptight and Satisfaction featuring a dancing Stevie Wonder. Much of Cocksucker is captured in gorgeously grainy black-and-white, while the occasional lapses into colour find Frank at his most expressionistic, rendering a spotlit prancing Jagger as a radioactive red blur.
Catch Cocksucker for its prurient pleasures, and return for the rest of the series' less sensationalistic films. Don't miss this chance to explore the cinematic output of this singular figure in modern art.