Barnaby Clay’s documentary relates the life and career of famed photographer Mick Rock, who shot iconic album covers for artists including David Bowie, Lou Reed and Queen.
If the central figure in Barnaby Clay’s documentary didn’t exist, rock ‘n’ roll would have had to invent him. He’s Mick Rock, who possesses the perfect name (and it’s real!) for his chosen profession: music photographer. Although casual fans may not have heard of him, Rock is a pop music legend, having photographed such iconic album covers as Lou Reed’s Transformer, Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power, and Queen’s Queen II among countless others. The quirkily titled Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock relates the colorful story of the now 69-year-old photographer’s life, including his nearly dying from a series of heart attacks while in his forties, and career.
The tale is told entirely through Rock’s perspective, with no friends, colleagues, or talking heads weighing in. But that turns out to be no detriment, since the Cambridge-educated photographer proves a witty and rueful commentator whose observations are infused with self-deprecating humor.
“In the beginning was Syd,” Rock intones. He’s referring to Syd Barrett, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, whose first solo album featured a cover shot by Rock, who met the future rock icon at university. That opportunity provided the springboard for Rock’s career, which includes long associations with Reed and Bowie. The film includes fascinating conversations between Rock and both music legends, as well as backstage footage of Bowie hanging out in a green room during his “Ziggy Stardust” tour.
Rock, who also directed Bowie’s “Life on Mars” music video, eventually became the go-to photographer for both the burgeoning glam and punk rock movements. His comments about the stars he worked with are priceless: He says that even before Queen made it big, Freddie Mercury “was already playing coliseums in his mind,” The Ramones were “the ugliest band around,” Iggy Pop “looked like a f—ing iguana,” and Debbie Harry was so beautiful that “you couldn’t really take a bad picture of her.” The backstories of his photos are equally fascinating, such as his revelation that a Freddie Mercury pose on an album cover was inspired by a photo of Marlene Dietrich from Shanghai Express.
Rock describes his hedonistic excesses in frank detail. “I was so in love with cocaine…“I do remember not sleeping for seven days,” he admits. His out-of-control habits finally caught up with him and he underwent quadruple bypass surgery after suffering three heart attacks. The film falters with its depiction of these experiences via hallucinatory, dramatic reenactments that feel pretentious as contrasted with Rock’s own down-to-earth attitude.
As the footage of the photographer working with such contemporary artists as TV on the Radio and Father John Misty illustrates, Rock continues to ply his trade with great success. He sums up his ethos succinctly early on in the film. “I’m not after your soul,” he proclaims. “I’m after your f—ing aura.”
Production: RockEye Productions, Vice Films, Straight Up Films
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Director: Barnaby Clay
Producers: Monica Hampton, Sal Scamardo, Marisa Polvino, Jim Czarnecki, Danna Gabai
Executive producers: Eddy Moretti, Shane Smith, Mary Regency Boies, Kate Cohen, Liz Vap
Director of photography: Max Goldman
Production designer: Jeff Everett
Editors: Drew Denicola, Michael Dart Wadsworth
Composer: Steven Drozd