Here is something that doesn’t happen nearly as often in documentaries as it does in narrative films: a supporting character steals the show. Billed as “part character study and part meditation on photography,” More Than The Rainbow does a better job in presenting the latter than the former.
Or maybe it does a fine job at character study too, but I just don’t find the main character that interesting. That would be Matt Weber, a fast walking, fast talking, New York loving shutterbug who claims that a colleague shoots one hundred rolls of film per day to get just the right image and apparently thinks that is what makes him (and the practice of “street” photography) so great.
My problem is not with Weber’s work, which I (as a neophyte when it comes to appreciating photography) find interesting enough, but with the way Weber talks about his work. At times Weber makes photography sound like the intersection of volume and chance. Click enough photos every day and some of them will be good. His comments also tend to be repetitive, though it is hard to tell how much of that is a result of the film’s editing and how much is attributable to Weber himself.
The real stars of the film, for me, were the other photographers. Ralph Gibson enters with a slow, clipped cadence that is almost the exact counterpoint of Weber’s. Eric Kroll calls Matt’s work superficial. One thing I value in photography and other visual arts is the ability to reward extended or repeated viewing. I don’t know–I can’t really know on a first viewing–if the naysayers are right and that most of Weber’s work can be exhausted too quickly and too easily. I do know that Gibson, Kroll, and Ben Lifson were speaking my language. And when one of them gets down to specifics, most notably in discussing a Weber photograph with Van Gogh portraits superimposed over the photo of a homeless man, I found myself nodding in agreement with his analysis.
That said, my glass-half-full argument on the film’s behalf is that any exhibition is educational and worth viewing if given the opportunity to move through it with an effective critic/teacher willing to give a few introductory lessons on how to process what you are looking at. Anyone can say ‘x’ is better than ‘y.’ The harder task is to explain that judgement in such a way that both the novice and the expert can follow your line of argument and be persuaded.
At one point
Gibson Lifson opines that the problem with most color photography is that it is really black and white photography taken with color equipment. He goes against the prevailing wisdom that I have always heard by saying that color photography is actually harder than black and white because there are more factors for the artist to consider in balancing the composition. I was grateful for Gibson’s inclusion that other photographers were included, but I wasn’t sure what to make of them. Did it signal that director Dan Wechsler sensed, as I did, that the film needed something more? That Weber’s voice alone for eighty minutes was too monotone? If so, why not stay with Gibson, make him the centerpiece make it more of a round table? If not, What does it say about the film that its centerpiece was the least interesting artist in it?
More Than The Rainbow opens on May 2 at Quad Cinemas in New York City and will be available on DVD through First Run Features.