“In church I found God, and then Polaroid led me straight to the devil.”
A rather apt statement from Matt Smith’s “Robert Mapplethorpe” in the trailer for the upcoming biopic, Mapplethorpe.
Smith (The Crown, Doctor Who) stars as the controversial and provocative photographer of the 1970s and 1980s who became a flashpoint for political conversations about art versus pornography.
The influential artist, who died in 1989 due to AIDS-related causes, scandalized the art world with his images of S&M scenes and the naked male body.
From the trailer description:
Robert Mapplethorpe (Matt Smith) is arguably one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Mapplethorpe discovered himself both sexually and artistically in New York City throughout the 70’s and 80’s. The film explores Mapplethorpe’s life from moments before he and Patti Smith moved into the famed Chelsea hotel, home to a world of bohemian chic. Here he begins photographing its inhabitants and his new found circle of friends including artists and musicians, socialites, film stars, and members of the S&M underground.
Mapplethorpe’s work embraced eroticism in a manner that shocked and challenged the public’s views on the boundaries of art. The film explores the intersection of his art and his sexuality along with his struggle for mainstream recognition.
“Like any artist in many senses he was vilified at the time,” Smith told EW. “But that’s because he was pushing the boundaries and the form and the envelope of that he was doing and the time he was in, and often the purpose of art is to do that.”
Mapplethorpe was also responsible, in part, in reigniting interest in photography as an evocative, mainstream art form.
“I’m an artist,” says Smith in the film. “I would have been a painter, but the camera was invented.”
In that Mapplethorpe died of AIDS, Smith also explored the impact of the disease that nearly wiped out a generation of gay men. He told EW:
Just investigating that moment in time, it certainly made me reflect on being a homosexual in the ’70s in New York and the way they were treated for a disease that was completely misunderstood. You think with what we know now about HIV and AIDS, you think if only we could have imparted a bit of the medicinal knowledge and the cultural understanding of that thing. It was appalling really what happened to gay men then, and the way they were treated, and what they had to go through. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in being able to treat that particular disease. It absolutely made me think about that. He died so young and if he were around now, then he’d live out the whole of his life and still be a brilliant, prolific artist I’m sure. Because he was prolific. He just worked and worked and worked.
Directed by Ondi Timoner, the movie premiered earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival and the critics raved.
“A phenomenal performance from lead Matt Smith,” wrote Lena Smith for Slate. “Audiences will feel unable to tear themselves away.”
The Hollywood Reporter also gushed about the film’s "superb performance from Matt Smith.”
“The film is afraid of neither the life nor the work of the notorious photographer,” penned Dan Callahan for The Wrap.
The movie also stars Marianne Rendón, Mark Moses, Carolyn McCormick, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Sklenar, McKinley Belcher III, and Kerry Butler.
A favorite on the film festival circuit, the movie garnered several awards including:
• Winner of the Audience Award (Feature Film) at the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival
• Winner of the Audience Award (Best LGBTQ Film) at the Key West Film Festival
• Winner of the Audience Award (Narrative Film) at the Long Beach Film Festival
• Winner of the Audience Award (Best Feature Film) at the Oslo/Fusion International Film Festival
Mapplethorpe lands in theaters March 1, 2019. Watch the trailer below.