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“Smash His Camera”: The Sweet Life of a Paparazzi Superstar

“Smash His Camera”: The Sweet Life of a Paparazzi Superstar (photo)

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Can a paparazzo be an artist? Ron Galella, self-proclaimed “paparazzi superstar” certainly thinks so. And Galella has some evidence to back up his claim: after decades in the celebrity photojournalism racket, his prints now hang in museums around the world, and private collectors pay serious money for prints of his work. He’s taken millions of photographs; one featured prominently in the film, “Windblown Jackie” from 1971, is one of the most beautiful pictures ever taken of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Of course, Onassis also sued Galella for invading her privacy and had a restraining order placed on him to keep him away from her and her children. So a paparazzo, artist or not, might be a stalker too.

Galella makes no apologies for his “art” and it is to director Leon Gast’s credit that his film about Galella, “Smash His Camera” neither valorizes nor demonizes its subject. Gast interviews a lot of people in this movie, including other paparazzi who think he’s one of the best of their breed and “respectable” photojournalists who think he’s a hack and a parasite. He also speaks to magazine editors who bought many of his photographs and always found him to be a pleasant and professional individual, and some art critics and museum curators who think he the turd in the punch bowl of American art and culture. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on Ron Galella, and all of them are strong.

Gast puts the lawyers who argued both sides of the Onassis case in a room and watches, decades later, as they curse and argue over his actions. In a culture that has turned the notion of “fair and balanced” journalism into a meaningless catchphrase, Gast is genuinely committed to the notion of equal time. Though the film is about Galella and is filtered through his perspective, if you’re of the inclination that all paparazzi are scumbags, you’ll find plenty of evidence to support your theory.

Then again, you might not. Galella isn’t just a guy with a camera looking for a quick buck. If people stopped buying pictures of celebrities, most paparazzi would go find other gigs. Not Galella. One of the most interesting, and in some ways unsettling, elements about “Smash His Camera” is his clear fascination with celebrity. At Galella’s house there’s a private version of the cement hand and footprints from Mann’s Chinese Theater with just one plaque: his own.

He takes pictures of the rich and famous as much for himself as for the money it brings in. After another paparazzo snapped a shot of Galella taking a picture of Jackie Onassis that offered concrete evidence he’d violated the restraining order he wasn’t upset that there could be legal repercussions. He was just excited that newspapers were printing a photo of him with Jackie Onassis.

07292010_smash2.jpgGast captures Galella working the red carpets for media events and sneaking into banquet halls in the hopes of passing hand-written notes or copies of his books to the celebrities. This isn’t the behavior of a jaded photographer; it’s the work of an obsessed fan. Gast argues that part of the reason Galella was so good at his job was the fact that he never considered the moral ramifications of his activities, and he never considered the moral ramifications of his activities because he was so consumed with the need to get close to these stars and to capture them with his camera.

“Smash His Camera” is a perfect coffee shop movie: you really haven’t had the full viewing experience until you’ve spent an hour sussing it out afterwards with your friends over a cup of coffee. In this case, It’s not just that its subject itself is ambiguous; the film itself treats him so even-handedly as to encourage audience debate. Is Galella a journalist or a creep? Is what he does valuable or disgusting?

I watched the movie with my wife; after it was over, I asked her what she thought of Galella. “I was a big Princess Diana fan. And you know what the paparazzi did to her,” she replied. A fair point. But when the film premiered at Sundance I interviewed Galella at a gallery showing his photographs and watched several appreciative fans come to buy pictures. They’d seen the film the night before and been impressed by his work.

In other words, don’t expect “Smash His Camera” to offer a sentimental fluff piece about an undeniably important figure in the world of celebrity culture (although Galella himself is plenty sentimental about his exploits). Don’t expect a witchhunt, either. Gast is starting a conversation here, not settling an argument.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.