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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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