“I would’ve been a painter, but the camera was invented,” Matt Smith says in a stunning Long Island accent as Robert Mapplethorpe in the first trailer for Ondi Timoner’s upcoming biopic about the incendiary photographer. His performance here is mesmerizing, though a 105-second trailer, as good as this one is, is very different from a 102-minute film.
“Mapplethorpe” received almost entirely negative reviews when it debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last April — IndieWire’s David Ehrlich gave it a D+ — but most of the critics at least singled out Smith’s performance as worthy of higher regard than the film in which it finds itself.
The new trailer includes Mapplethorpe first connecting with Patti Smith — he’d take the photo of her that would end up on the sleeve of her legendary 1975 debut album, “Horses” — and what happened as he began to become ever more famous throughout the 1980s with work that explored homoeroticism and BDSM in carefully framed and lit black-and-white compositions. “Even that which we deem obscene you make look more beautiful than I ever thought possible,” one character says, reflecting so much of the artist’s own attitudes.
Mapplethorpe’s work would inspire many censorship debates throughout the ’80s. Various right-wing groups seized on and ultimately canceled 1989 exhibition of his work at Washington D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art, which was financially supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, as a reason to advocate for ending public funding of the NEA.
But of course, that only resulted in Mapplethorpe’s artistry — images that still confront, such as a self-portrait with a bullwhip inserted into his backside — receiving even more attention. Though he would die of complications from AIDS later in 1989, his photos have gone on to fetch seven-figures at auction. Watch the newest trailer for “Mapplethorpe” below.
“Mapplethorpe” will be released by Samuel Goldwyn Films on March 1, 2019.