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Review: ‘Bert Stern: Original Madman’

Putting The Famous Photographer In Front Of The Lens

Photographer Bert Stern gained fame and acclaim shooting celebrities like Mar...

Credit: First Run Features

Above: Photographer Bert Stern gained fame and acclaim shooting celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Now he's in front of the lens in the documentary "Bert Stern: Original Madman."

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "Bert Stern: Original Madman"


"Bert Stern: Original Madman" (opening May 2 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) had its San Diego debut at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival. It's a fascinating portrait of the photographer who helped make Smirnoff popular and shot Marilyn Monroe's last sitting.

You may not know Bert Stern’s name but you’ve likely seen his work, like the photos of Marilyn Monroe with nothing but a sheer scarf between her and the camera. “Bert Stern: Original Madman” had it’s San Diego premiere at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival in February. The film, by Shannah Laumeister, sits Stern down for a series of intimate and informal discussions.

"This is a good way to do this, what you are doing, is sitting with me with a camera that takes sound. What do you want to know? Ask me a question?" Stern prompts in the documentary.

The reputed bad boy of photography reveals doubts about having the lens turned on him but he proves as fascinating as his photos. At times he’s surprisingly candid about his life. Yet he also seems engaged in an act of seduction, teasing us with just the details he wants to reveal while keeping other things secret. But then that’s how Stern approaches photography.

He tells Laumeister, "Making love and making photographs were closely connected in my mind when it came to women."

Which may explain why so many of his best and most famous images are of women like his photos of Marilyn Monroe wearing nothing but a string of beads. The film dazzles us with hundreds of his images from his Madison Avenue ad days to his heyday shooting Hollywood celebrities from Monroe to Audrey Hepburn to Lindsay Lohan. In the end, Stern proves to be compelling on both sides of the camera.

“Bert Stern: Original Madman” just opened at Landmark’s Ken Cinema for a one week run.

Companion viewing: "Bill Cunnungham New York," "The Eyes of Laura Mars," "Peeping Tom"

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