Smash His Camera
Ron Galella celebrity photographer, artist, pest or deranged stalker? As with many things, the truth lies somewhere in between. I really enjoyed “Smash His Camera,” a fast moving, entertaining and informative documentary portrait of Galella, purportedly the most famous of the paparazzi (photographers who stalk the rich and famous). While watching “Smash His Camera” I realized that I have been seeing Galella’s iconic photographs for years.
Galella has been beaten up by Marlon Brando, sued by Jackie Onasis and sneered at by Steve McQueen. All three of these late icons, if alive today, would probably be very happy with the beautiful, indelible images that Galella has made of them.
Galella, now 79-years-old, says that he sees nothing wrong with how he made his living. He has a raconteur’s inventory of stories about how he got some of his iconic shots, the negatives and prints of which are organized stored in the climate controlled basement of his opulent New Jersey home. In fact, the film’s title, “Smash His Camera,” is a quote from instructions given by Jackie Onasis to her secret service agents after Galella was caught photographing her and, son John, Jr., in Central Park. Galella had the temerity to sue the former first lady. He claimed that by sending her secret service agents after him Onasis was preventing him from making a living. Onasis counter sued Galella for harassment. The well publicized legal battle that followed made Galella’s career.
The documentary includes interviews with Galella, photojournalists, reporters, lawyers, magazine editors, celebrities and attorneys. All expound on Galella, his methods, legal implications and the significance of his photographs. These interviews are inter-cut with archival news footage of Galella over the years. We see film clips of a younger Galella expounding on his self-written rules for stealing shots, at one point cutting a hole through a hedge in order to photograph reclusive actress Katherine Hepburn. Galella is shown using disguises in order to get close to his subjects and encouraging his own celebrity by making talk show appearances.
First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams describes Galella and his, court debated, First Amendment right to go after people as “the price tag of the First Amendment.” Famed sports photographer Neil Leifer warns that Galella’s methods go to the furthest end of the First Amendment. In contrast another interviewee describes Galella as an artist and an icon who invented a new style.
Like most people Galella is a complicated individual, part eccentric, part provocateur and part artist. Today Galella is devoted to creating books of his work from his vast archive of millions of photographs which have appeared in many publications: “The New Yorker,” “Life,” “Vanity Fair,” “The New York Times” and many others. His prints have been exhibited internationally in museums and galleries, including MOMA. His vindication is complete. “Smash His Camera” opens on July 30 at Cinema Village.
Smash His Camera, Director Leon Gast, 2010, Magnolia Pictures, 89 minutes