Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: Rebecca Frayn
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Image Entertainment
Length: 51 Minutes
Release Date: August 7, 2001
You probably know the name, but even if you don’t, you know the work, at least if you’ve been in tune with pop culture for the last three decades. Annie Leibovitz is an artist who has not only created icons, she’s become one in her own right. My sister is probably her biggest fan, and over the years, she’s really gotten me into her works and given me an appreciation of how much of an art form pop culture photography has become, thanks in large part to Ms. Leibovitz’ body of work.
From her early days as a celebrated independent photographer whose photos graced the covers and pages of Rolling Stone magazine, she established a unique style and created unforgettable images. Her pictures are as much a part of rock and roll history as the music and the celebrities who created it. With a keen eye and an uncanny sense of artistic instinct, she was able to capture the glamour of the rock lifestyle in one frame and strip it away in the next.
Her most memorable photo, however, became frozen in time like a wistful memory. It was a beautiful, emotional picture of John Lennon in a fetal position, tenderly embracing wife Yoko Ono. The photograph would have been a cultural icon under any circumstance, but as fate would have it, it turns out this picture was snapped literally hours before Lennon’s murder. It became the only cover in the history of Rolling Stone to run with no printed words on it save for the banner.
This documentary film, made in 1993, is probably too short to really do justice to its subject matter. Her early work seems somewhat rushed through in an effort to catch up to where she was at that point in her career, having made the leap from Rolling Stone to Vanity Fair. Her work there continued to be iconoclastic, and even controversial, as her cover photo of a nude and pregnant Demi Moore made national headlines.
There are a number of interview clips with Ms. Leibovitz, as well as some other guest spots from the likes of Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who recollect Annie with fondness and humor.
Like all great artists, Annie Leibovitz’ work has both reflected and commented on our culture, as well as become an indelible part of it. This documentary manages to show why, but I can’t help but wish it had been twice as long and showed a whole lot more.
The visual limitations of this disc aren’t the fault of the transfer so much as they are of the source material. You can tell it was shot mostly on 16 mm or lower grade film, which tends to exhibit grain as a side effect of contrast. Colors are often muted, lighting isn’t always the best…overall, the disc is fine and far from unwatchable, but the evidence of the movie’s limitations are manifest.
It’s chiefly a dialogue oriented picture, so there’s really not much to say about the stereo mix, except that it sounds fine, serves the purpose, and won’t rattle your windows.
Features (zero stars)
Nothing. Why not at least a photo gallery, I wonder?
Annie Leibovitz is a respectable documentary and a good introduction to the life and works of one of the most prolific artists of the past half century. I personally would have liked it a little longer and a little more in depth, but for its current running length, I won’t complain.