Robert Frank, Extraordinary Photographer and Director of 'Suppressed' Rolling Stones Documentary, Dies at 94
The Stones sued to keep public from seeing Frank's 1972 film Cocksucker Blues
Robert Frank, who published one of the most important books of photography of the 20th century and later directed films including a controversial documentary about the Rolling Stones, has died at the age of 94.
His death on Monday at a hospital in Nova Scotia, where Frank kept a summer home, was confirmed by Peter MacGill, a New York-based gallerist who represented the artist's work. Frank's primary residence was in Manhattan.
Robert is from the Beat generation... His films and his photographs have a certain feeling and emotion, and like a rawness to them.
In 1958 Frank came out with The Americans, a collection of 83 photographs selected from more than 25,000 he had taken while traveling the country on a Guggenheim Fellowship. His outsider's perspective - he had emigrated from Switzerland in his early 20s - brought into focus something essential about American culture, especially its pervasive racial inequality. The book wasn't well received on publication but came to be recognized by critics and photographers as one of the most important and influential works of the century.
Frank later turned his attention to filmmaking, directing more than a dozen works of fiction and nonfiction. His documentary Cocksucker Blues, filmed during the Rolling Stones' 1972 U.S. tour, is renowned despite being rarely seen. The director's cameras captured liberal drug use by band members; when the Stones' saw the finished film they sued to keep it from being released, fearing it would damage their ability to work in the U.S.
In a Solomon-like decision, a judge issued a compromise decision in the civil case, ruling the film could be shown a maximum of four times a year and only in the presence of Frank himself. With the filmmaker's death, it's unclear whether Cocksucker Blues can be screened publicly in the future.
Frank was the subject of the 2016 documentary Don't Blink - Robert Frank, directed by Laura Israel. Israel worked as an editor on a number of Frank's films before embarking on her own movie about the photographer/filmmaker.
Frank remained an astute observer of his environment into his 90s, Israel told us at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2016.
"Sometimes I’m with Robert and he sees these things and he mentions them and they’re things I didn’t even notice, that people don’t even notice," Israel commented. "He’s just always looking."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.