American Masters (1985– )
7.8/10
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Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens 

This film traces the artistic self-realization of Annie Leibovitz, from childhood through the death of her beloved friend... See full synopsis »

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This film traces the artistic self-realization of Annie Leibovitz, from childhood through the death of her beloved friend... See full synopsis »

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3 January 2007 (USA)  »

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Photog Leibovitz Masters bottom of the barrel in more ways than one.
11 April 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

There have been few if any American Masters that have disappointed me over its 20 plus year run on PBS. Most of the shows edified in ways that many times added to my understanding and appreciation of the artists. Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, Charles Schultz and the remarkable Ella Fitzgerald to name a few were insightful looks at creative and original artists. Enter photographer to the stars Annie Liebovitz and this incestuous little valentine directed by her younger sister Barbara, Annie Leibovitz: Life through a Lens.

As "famous" as any living photographer Leibovitz since her Rolling Stone days has managed to have limitless access and entry to the world of celebrity populating her contrived canvases with star power and getting maximum front page exposure from the high end glossies Vogue and Vanity Fair. Totally artificial Leibovitz style resembles more Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue window dressing than master photography where Tussuad like wax figures are positioned and repositioned while Loebovitz with her entourage of assistants spend hours of discussion before manufacturing the decisive moment by committee. Results can range from provocative to pretentious. For better or worse her photographs of John and Yoko and painted and pregnant Demi Moore are iconic images of the times but they owe more to the fame of her subjects than the abilities of the artist.

Leibovitz's personal journey is also lacklustre since she reveals little of her relationships with Hunter Thompson and Susan Sontag and a bout with drug addiction is quickly and tidily dealt with while an inordinate amount of time is devoted to family photos and scenes around the pool. It's as if Sis' forgot she was making a PBS special and instead a family reunion DVD. There's a mountain of praise from celebrity subjects and her editors along with one lone voice of descent who cannot balance this love fest on her own.

American Masters does itself no favors when it purports to show the movers, shakers and originals of the art form and gives us the likes of a media darling hack with a minor in interior decorating while ignoring the monumental contributions of Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, Lee Friedlander,Dorothea Lange, Ester Bubley, Walker Evans, Bernice Abbott so forth and so on. Guess you can see where my irritation stems from. When it comes to compelling imagery I'll take Arthur Fellig (Weegee)with his Speed Graphic focusing at ten feet F stop 16 any day over Loebovitz and her court of technicians,set designers and celebrity subjects tending to staged flights of fancy which lack the purity and power of gritty truth and the pursuit of the "fleeing reality". With Loebovitz it's more about who you hang out with than composition. Times change and I guess PBS going Entertainment Tonight is a sounder business move when it comes to DVD sales. Shame on me for thinking it was about art.


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