Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 23, 2019 3:31 pm 
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A brilliant French lensman with a difficult past

"Looking Up," which refers to Henri Dauman's early photos of skyscrapers from below in New York, is the title of a retrospective of his photographs shown in Los Angeles at at KP Projects/Merry Karnowsky Gallery April 28 to May 12, 2018. This film is a follow-up, a personal review of his life and career. He flourished during the heyday of magazine photography in the Fifties and Sixties, before the decline of journalist caused hard times. That was his first US exhibition, we learn. The photographs are wonderful. Some of them, like Kennedy family marching in JFK's funeral cortège, are famous, but his name is too little known.

Dauman became a leading photojournalist after he emigrated at 17 in 1950 from France to New York. His work eventually was seen by millions in Life and on the covers of Time and L'Express, Epoca and Paris Match.. His photos are "a who's who of pivotal figures of the 20th century, including John and Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, Brigitte Bardot, Elvis Presley and countess others," wites Frank Schenk in his Hollywood Reporter. review.

In Peter Kenneth Jones's documentary, Dauman tells his own story into the camera, much like Toni Morrison in the currently showing The Pieces I Am - but with a lot of lovely still photographs, which he explains were always informed by his love of films, especially American noir. He told only his two wives about his very difficult early years we learn of here. A Jew born in Montmartre, Dauman and his mother escaped the infamous "rafle" of the Vélodrome d'Hiver in Paris where thousands of Jews were taken to be sent off to their deaths at the hands of the Nazis. He was separated from her during the war as he fled into the country in hiding. His father was sent to Auschwitz and killed. Reunited with his mother in Paris after the Liberation when he was 9, he lost her again when she was one of six poisoned by an evil neighborhood pharmacist. He was in a succession of orphanages age 13-17. He taught himself photography and was already a success as a teen, doing, the French Wikipedia article tells us, "portraits of celebrities for Radio Luxembourg and the famous Agency stars Bernand."

The French government helped him find his American uncle Sam in New York to be his guardian and sailing on "the newly renovated liner La Liberté he went to America at 17. The time was rough here to. His uncle's wife wasn't friendly. He was housed in a room in the Bronx and worked in a lingerie factory. But he stuck to photography and, working like a demon, starting with the magazine France-Amérique, made a name for himself photographing celebrities, especially French ones, gaining note for a series on Elvis Presley doing military service. The Wikipedia article reviews Dauman's extensive achievements, which include color photography and directing documentaries. Some of these things the film barely touches on. At the end it lavishes much attention on Dauman today, his second wife, the two of them visiting a beautifully photographed Paris, and his children and grandchildren, whom he understandably considers his greatest achievement, since he started with nothing on arriving in the US. It's difficult to do full justice to both the private and professional life of this brave and prolific man. The director, Peter Jones, is the boyfriend of Dauman's granddaughter, Nicole Suerez. Dauman’s son, Philippe, is president, CEO and chairman at Viacom, heir apparent to the media empire long helmed by Sumner Redstone. Henri Dauman also has a daughter, Suerez’s mother, and another son from a second marriage.

Henri Dauman: Looking Up, 86 mins., debuted at the Hamptons Oct. 6, 2018. Screened for this review as part of the 2019 SFJFF.
Showtimes SFJFF:
Thursday July 25, 2019 11:40 a.m. CineArts
Friday July 26, 2019 11:15 a.m. Castro Theatre
Wednesday July 31, 2019 1:30 p.m. Albany Twin


©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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