Smash His Camera -- Film Review



One of the more memorable lines from the classic film "Chinatown" said something to the effect that, with enough time, old whores, politicians and ugly buildings become respectable. So, too, has Ron Galella, the infamous paparazzo whose 1970s-era celebrity stalkings became the stuff of legend. Filmmaker Leon Gast ("When We Were Kings") paints an entertaining portrait of the still-working 79-year-old photographer in the aptly titled "Smash His Camera."

In this high-pitched era of intrusive celebrity journalism, it's almost quaint to think that Galella's tactics were once considered so shocking. Fittingly, the film features a gallery of talking heads, alternately highly critical and sympathetic, who provide historical context for his career.

The controversial photographer's biggest claims to fame, well-documented here, were his violent encounter with Marlon Brando, who smashed out five of his teeth with one well-timed punch -- Galella later took to photographing the actor while wearing a football helmet -- and his yearslong stalking of Jackie Onassis and her children, which led a protracted legal battle that resulted in her being granted a restraining order against him.

Onassis is a dominant figure in the film, not unsurprisingly because his pictures of her, including the "Windblown Jackie" shot that he proudly refers to as his "Mona Lisa," are among his best-known efforts.

Galella, who lives in a floridly decorated New Jersey mansion, is depicted here as a vaguely endearing eccentric filled with endless quirks, including a strange obsession with rabbits. He is given ample opportunity to explain his attitudes about his craft and working methods and is seen still engaging in such pursuits as trying to get close enough to Robert Redford to hand the actor a copy of his latest book of photographs.

Although it fails to delve sufficiently into the privacy issues inevitably raised by Galella's tactics, "Camera," much like the current "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," is a highly entertaining portrait of a undeniably unique show-business character.

Opens: Friday, July 30 (Magnolia)
Production: Get the Shot
Director: Leon Gast
Producers: Adam Schlesinger, Linda Saffire
Executive producers: Jeffrey Tarrant, William Ackman, Daniel Stern
Director of photography: Doug Don Lenzer
Editor: Doug Abel
Music: Craig Hazen, David Wolfert
No rating, 87 minutes