Film Review: Anton Corbijn: Inside Out
September 06, 2012
For famous writers, loneliness is practically a prerequisite for fame, while photographers are generally thought of as more social creatures. That's not the case with Anton Corbijn, though he's worked in the spotlight with some of the most notable celebrities of our time.
In the thoughtful new documentary by Klaartje Quirijns, Anton Corbijn: Inside Out, we see how Corbijn leads a life of self-imposed solitude. The interesting thing here is that he seems to want the opposite.
Shot from 2008 - 2011, the narrative alternates between visiting Corbijn at various band photo shoots/film sets and speaking with him — and his family — at home.
Of course one of the bands he's on site with is U2, whom Corbijn has been collaborating with since the early '80s. Bono is interviewed briefly, and mentions why he thinks the band finds such harmony with Corbijn.
"We're both interested in light, and trying to capture it ... reflect it," he said. "In his case as a photographer, that is his medium; in our case it's another kind of illumination that comes through music."
In another clip, Corbijn shoots the band in front of an Irish wall, and Bono thinks that he, Larry, Adam and Edge should look more like "blocks," so the photographer humors him and instructs the band to stand with more space between them. The shot immediately following shows the group clustered back together in their trademark pose.
The photographer's instinct was clearly right, but the previous exchange was a good indication of how willing he is to experiment with the ideas of others.
In fact, everyone who speaks about him on camera is quick to mention how pleasant and lighthearted he is in the moment. He tells jokes and sets his subjects at ease so he can get the reactions he desires behind the lens. Obviously, this approach works.
It's safe to say Corbijn was born with this gift, as evidenced in a scrapbook his sister shares, which shows photos he took of her during their childhood. Even those pictures have a quiet, sophisticated elegance that a child's eye should not yet have been capable of capturing.
Corbijn realizes he sees things more profoundly than others, but implies it's a mixed blessing. Although he admits he may identify beauty in places others wouldn't notice, he also laments the "ugly" bothers him more than the average person.
He mentions being drawn to musicians specifically because of the pain they must suffer for their creations, and seems frustrated that his trademark images have a certain darkness to them, because he claims to be a generally happy person.
In a very revealing sequence where he's lying on the couch as if he's participating in a therapy session, he mentions that he's not fond of parties and finds dinners hard because of the conversations. He's so easily distracted that he often forgets what someone has just said.
What's fascinating to contemplate is how a man so socially awkward in traditional settings can be so powerfully accurate in drawing out a mood or personality in a subject he's photographing or directing.
Missing from the documentary is any reference to romantic love or past partners, but as you watch, you slowly realize Corbijn's relationships are primarily rooted in his art. His sister is the first to point out that his life is too busy; one has to wonder if he subconsciously keeps his professional duties buzzing to drown out the silence in his personal life.
He comments briefly about how he feels his home — beautifully sparse much like his images — is too large.
Perhaps instead the space is too hollow, rich only with images in lieu of intimacy.
Anton Corbijn: Inside Out will be released on DVD in the U.K. on Sept. 17. To view a trailer of the film, click here. Photo/trailer used with permission from Aim Publicity.
(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2012.
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