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Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff + Robert Mapplethorpe

14 customer reviews

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(Apr 01, 2008)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Black, White + Gray examines the life and lives of influenital curator and collector, Sam Wagstaff, a vertitable force in the art world for nearly three decades. The film reveals the symbiotic relationship Wagstaff shared with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in New York during the heady years of the 70s and 80s. Bonus feature includes an additional interview with Sam Wagstaff at the Corcoran Museum.


Sam Wagstaff was a Vanity Fair cover waiting to happen. He was handsome, wealthy, cultivated and connected, not to mention the lover and mentor of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Both men died of AIDS in the late '80s. Each man was a sexual outlaw, and a sense of outlawry marked their cultural lives no less than their private ones, as seen in James Crump's absorbing 2007 documentary. The narration is delivered in rather hard-bitten tones by writer Joan Juliet Buck. "Black White + Gray" demonstrates a rare degree of intelligence, sophistication and frankness. It reminds us just how pedestrian, even gee-whiz, what passes for cultural documentary on something such as PBS' "American Masters" is. The DVD includes a 1978 talk by Wagstaff. --Seattle Post Intelligencer

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Patti Smith, Dominick Dunne, John Szarkowski, Sam Wagstaff, Robert Mapplethorpe
  • Directors: James Crump
  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Arts Alliance America
  • DVD Release Date: April 1, 2008
  • Run Time: 89 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0013PVGLS
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #301,086 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2008
Format: DVD
While this extremely-well done DVD is called "Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe," it essentially belongs to Wagstaff, the patrician photography collector who had an enormous influence on the career of Mapplethorpe, as his lover (although there was exactly a twenty-five-year difference in the ages of the two men since they were both born on September 4), adviser and patron. While this film does not address the subject, most historians credit Wagstaff as being the person who advised the photographer to print and sell fewer rather than more of his photographs in order to drive their prices up.

Wagstaff's life and influence in the art world unfold as told through his own words-- a speech he gave at the Corcoran Museum is included on the DVD-- as well as commentary by Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Dominick Dunne, Eugenia Parry, John Richardson, Ralph Gibson, John Giorno et al. The picture we take away from this documentary of Wagstaff is that of a man born into money, extremely handsome with a good sense of humor, who insisted on being who he was and living life on his own terms, whether it was buying and collecting photographs or spending his evenings in places like the Anvil Bar in New York. Commentator after commentator uses the word "compartmentalize" to describe the many facets of Wagstaff's life. He said that rather than spend much time reading about photography, he rather chose to look at the pictures and that photography should be, in his words, pleasant.

A little of the writer John Dunne goes a long way with me. I remember not being much taken with his article about the death of Mapplethorpe published in "Vanity Fair.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By The Third on April 22, 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
A small group of diversely occupied men who share an interest in film viewed this selection at one of their monthly meetings and everyone enjoyed it very much. The contrast between Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe could hardly be more distinct. The elitist privilege of Wagstaff and the outsider poverty of Mapplethorpe formed a bond that symbiotically grew, often using the friendship of Patti Smith as the Gray between them. The pursuit of photography as a fine art medium and of course the sexual attraction between the two men, energized the success of both, and briefly elevated the world of S&M homosexual practices to the level of ritual piety. These men, their relationship and their accomplishments stand as yet another chapter, in perhaps one of the most turbulent and progressively agressive decades in both the art and social cultures of our time. If your interests fall in either of these categories please don't miss this film.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amaranth on June 16, 2010
Format: DVD
"Black White + Gray" is a powerful documentary about curator Sam Wagstaff and his photographer/lover, Robert Mapplethorpe. Though Wagstaff was 25 years older, the two formed a close bond that transformed the art world. Wagstaff was an aristocratic Polish lady's son, growing up by Central Park. Mapplethorpe was blue collar, working class. Wagstaff, like activist Harvey Milk, served in the Navy--thus giving a whole new meaning to Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

"Black White + Gray" mainly provides insights from Patti Smith, the punk rock goddess who befriended both men Patti Smith Dream Of Life. They were two fascinating characters in her dream of life. Wagstaff paved the way to Mapplethorpe's success in the art world, introducing him to erotic photography Man to Man: A History of Gay Photography (Male Photography). Mapplethorpe was the Bad Boy in Leather who took a walk on the wild side, introducing Wagstaff to S&M. While the documentary primarily focuses on Wagstaff's emergence from the closet (and his eventual death from AIDS), little is made of his relationship with Mapplethorpe. Only Patti Smith elaborates on it, poeticizes it, unites the two in immortality.Mapplethorpe: Assault With a Deadly Camera Mapplethorpe's posthumous controversy in Ohio provides a footnote. Wagstaff was an agent provocateur with his championing of modern art as well. Both men reveled in controversy.

"Black White+Gray" is a must-see documentary of the art world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nomlac on February 11, 2014
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I read in one of the reviews that this film was a fake, because his subject was Wagstaff and not Mapplethorpe. Well, if you read the title you see that Sam's name comes first. I knew little about him and of his importance. This filme shows him very clearly, without diminishing Mapplethorpe. A fascinating creature, an aristocrat gone to hell, Sam made a pact with Robert that only enriched both of them. Their amour fou, even if they paid the terrible price of death by AIDS, left us a very important heritage. Besides, Sam Wagstaf, was an important and revolutionary patron of arts without Robert, the same way his pupil could become a great artist without him. This documentary is a seminal one, not only because it shows a great love story, but also gay life in Wagstaff's generation, the subterranean lives, the disguises, the repression and how his liaison with this very crazy and talented blue collar hustler helped to liberate himself and make history. A must.
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