Shadow Play: The Making of Anton Corbijn
Before Anton Corbijn became synonymous with U2 and Depeche Mode, shooting their videos and photographing their album cover art with his trademark grainy, black & white aesthetic, or exaggerated use of colour and space, he was often fired and rejected by labels for being too dark. He doesn’t hype the artist, putting Vaseline on the lens and delivering the standard flippant tribute, rather he deconstructs them. He captures the moment in a way that almost mocks celebrity, juxtaposing their images with desolate landscapes or manipulated, imposing spaces. At least, this is what Josh Whiteman’s documentary asserts.
With interviews from Kurt Cobain, Michael Stipe, Samantha Morton, Bono and Dave Gahan, along with insights from Corbijn, the documentary takes a mostly linear and ideological approach to exploring the photographer and director. Bono and Gahan talk about how he constructed their celebrity image, photographing the infamous Joshua Tree cover and directing videos for ‘One,’ ‘Personal Jesus’ and ‘Enjoy the Silence,’ while Michael Stipe praises the genius of much of his work, in particular the ‘I Feel You’ video.
Clips from the many videos, along with lingering shots on his photography, keep things from devolving into a talking head commentary, progressing towards events more recent, such as the helming of the feature film Control, the biopic about Joy Division’s Ian Curtis.
If there is a flaw to this engaging and breezy doc it’s that it’s all praise and no dissection. Sure, it’s cool to talk about Corbijn’s critically praised film and his videos for Henry Rollins and Metallica, but never once do they mention that he also directed videos for Naomi Campbell’s ‘Love & Tears’ and that horrifying Bryan Adams song from Don Juan DeMarco: ‘Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?’
This is typically the case when the subject is involved in the work and the celebrity stakes are high, and it’s fine, but it doesn’t make for particularly insightful or cutting edge viewing. That said, they do manage to articulate just what it is that’s so appealing, funny and deeply sad about his visionary work, which should be enough for those already keen on the subject.