Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall
- Kevin Harley
- 27 January 2020
Engaging if rather overindulgent portrait of the revered rock photographer from Alfred George Bailey
Did photographer Jim Marshall possess too many contradictions to reconcile? To mixed ends, director Alfred George Bailey's lively portrait of the revered rock snapper suggests as much. As a eulogy of a larger-than-life 'character', its willingness to splice Marshall's troubling aspects with rock'n'roll mythmaking frustrates. Yet, as a portrait of a distinguished career's hectic momentum, it offers an engaging case for reflection.
One contributor sums up Marshall neatly by saying that his fierce work ethic about photography was not always matched by ethical dealings with others. He liked guns and knives – and wound up in the slammer after he threatened people with them. Colourfully, one woman dubs him 'a little malevolent gnome'.
But Marshall was also a photographer of great sensitivity, focus and energy, which he fuelled into intimate snapshots of the 1960s and 1970s music scenes. Perhaps bizarrely, this aggressive character even found himself at the epicentre of the Summer of Love. Variously, his subjects included Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, the Beatles, and an unguarded Janis Joplin. He also did revelatory work with black musicians, notably earning John Coltrane's trust.
While Bailey overindulges Marshall's self-mythologising and colossal cocaine use, in-depth analysis of his background proves slightly less forthcoming, beyond snippets devoted to his choppy family background and insecurities. Some say his 'hard-ass, spiteful' front was just that: a front to cover for low self-esteem.
Whether that's true or not, Marshall's long-haul assistant Amelia Davis provides persuasive first-hand accounts of her boss's complexities. Meanwhile, actor Michael Douglas's warm, wry tributes to his friend include vital context on Marshall's decline, related to an increasingly corporate music industry. The access he loved became more guarded, less readily available. Whatever you make of the man, his exhilarating, of-its-moment work can't help but stir a few pangs of longing for bygone eras.
Limited release from Fri 31 Jan.