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The Mesmerizing Movies of Robert Frank



Nicholas Dawidoff on the films of Robert Frank for The New Yorker:

Critics, including Manohla Dargis, of the Times, and younger filmmakers, such as Richard Linklater and Jim Jarmusch, consider Frank the godfather of independent American personal cinema. They revere his contempt for standard approaches, his willingness to try anything, his willingness to fail. But I am a pretty conventional moviegoer. I found his shaggy-dog day-in-the-life film of his Beat-poet friends, “Pull My Daisy,” from 1959, and his long meditation on mental illness, love, family, and conventions of behavior, “Me and My Brother,” from ten years later, beautiful and arresting. But much of the work was mystifying to me. Frank had laid out and sequenced “The Americans” meticulously. Some of the films, by contrast, seem like near-random collages. Was he trying to say something about spontaneity? Was there a method at all?

One day, I confessed my confusion to Frank. He said abruptly that he was displeased with his films: “It was bigger than me. I failed.” Showing his longer films to small audiences got so “boring,” he said, that one day he cut a couple of them up, stitched together sections of one with chunks of another, and then showed an audience what amounted to two fresh movies. By this point, I knew Frank to be notoriously sly and puckish, and ambivalent about everything. I still had the feeling that I was missing something, that he had groped toward a significant vanishing point, and that, in the films, deeper forces were at play than even he was admitting.

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