Magnum Cinema

 

ONE of cinema's most disturbing features its tendency to treat all those who work within its precincts a quasi beatific personages is clearly exposed in this show of movie related photography by some of the most celebrated names from the Magnum group.

The show suggests that many Magnum photographers were prepared to adopt a reverential, unquestioning attitude to their screen heroes and heroines. This might be excused on the grounds that much of the work was destined for studio publicity material, but it is still disconcerting to see how much under the thrall of the stars these photographers seem to have been.

There are a lot of pictures of Marilyn Monroe, taken by a huge assortment of Magnum photographers, the most celebrated of which are those by Eve Arnold. Looking at Arnold's images of Monroe, the actress's mouth slightly open, bare skin occasionally exposed beneath the far from subtle bedsheets, it is hard not to form the question "So what".

Monroe's last role was, of course, in The Misfits, a film which squelched with Hollywood's worst self aggrandising leanings. It is noteworthy that Eve Arnold, Erich Hartman, Ernst Haas, Igne Morath, Cornell Capa and Eliot Erwit all turn in stills photos from the set of that film.

Similarly, a row of colour portraits hung along the gallery's balcony, featuring glamorous shots of Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot and others, turns the actresses into pouting madonnas.

As far as graceless veneration is concerned, however, none of these pictures comes close to Eve Arnold's portrait of a studious Paul Newman, carefully isolated from the general rabble of hopefuls at the Adors School his face stiffened in Method concentration.

Bruno Barbey's complex photograph, in which the image of Ingrid Bergman fivers on an electric advertising board over a Tokyo street corner, gains particular strength from an ability to withdraw a little from simple veneration and glimpse the systems that give the star her iconic presence.

The figure who deals most shrewdly with all this carefully orchestrated adoration is Alfred Hitchcock. Whether seen in a montage with Tippi Hedren tucking into a roast chicken while the actress is menaced by a stuffed bird, or sucking a cigar on which another toy bird is perched, Hitch has the imagination to undermine the artifice. Or perhaps he is just astute enough to know that, if you intend to manipulate your audience, you had better do so with intelligence.