Sophie Bassaler’s Cinema Through the Eye of Magnum looks at other artists like Burt Glinn and Eve Arnold. They belong to the Magnum Photos collective that fought for them to keep copyright of their negatives. Many of the artists who joined that collective are journalists. Some photographers befriended movie directors. These friendships with auteurs from Hollywood’s Golden Age were fruitful. They created the ‘making of’ genre, capturing what happens behind the scenes and by doing so, mixed artistry with authenticity. There’s a simple, wonderful majesty in the way Bassaler combines these archive photos with interviews. She emphasized that this what a time when the directors and actors let the photographers capture whatever they wanted. This always produced good work. In a way, this is a monumental approach to an era that wasn’t gonna last.
The movie’s climax first involves Arnold’s working relationship with Golden Age actresses like Marilyn Monroe. That friendship was strong enough to connect her to a dozen of the top photographers from the collective. They took turns capturing the tumultuous making of The Misfits, which ended up being one of Monroe’s last films. Contemporary Western society goes through waves in its opinion of Monroe. At points, some of us valorize her victim-hood while other debase her dumb blonde persona. The film, as it should, chooses the classier route. It also doesn’t hide the mutual parasitic tendencies between photographers and stars. The former needs subjects while the latter needs publicity. Despite this, this is also a time when photographers, most of them anyway, have empathy. They, then, took care of these stars, showing their complexity.
The Golden Age came to a close. Hollywood developed different methods of gaining publicity for their pictures. Besides, people outside of California made movies too, so Magnum adapted and expanded. The documentary, in its last section, follows photographers like Jean Gaumy and Patrick Zachmann. They took inspiration from Russian and Chinese cinema and applied it to their aesthetic. The movie specifically goes into what happens after Zachmann attended a film festival in Turin. Bassaler, then, shows Zachmann’s photographs as he captures what we though then was a close off country. This, in a way, shows our preconceived notions about certain art forms like music and visual art. A picture, to some of us, seems static. But there’s a world within that one image, one igniting the viewers’s curiosity to venture into the artist’s mind.