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Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff + Robert Mapplethorpe (2010)

Sam Wagstaff , Robert Mapplethorpe , James Crump  |  Unrated |  DVD
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Sam Wagstaff, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith
  • Directors: James Crump
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Arthouse Films
  • DVD Release Date: February 2, 2010
  • Run Time: 72 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002ZTQW6A
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,088 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff + Robert Mapplethorpe" on IMDb

Editorial Reviews

Review

Fascinating! --The New Yorker

A potent exercise in art-world mythography... --The New York Times

Product Description

Yale-educated and born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Sam Wagstaff s transformation from innovative museum curator to Robert Mapplethorpe s lover and patron is intensively probed in BLACK WHITE + GRAY. During the heady years of the 1970s and 1980s, the New York City art scene was abuzz with a new spirit, and Mapplethorpe would be at the center of it. Wagstaff pulled him from his suburban Queens existence, gave him a camera and brought him into this art world that seemed to be waiting for him, creating the man whose infamous images instilled emotions ranging from awe to anger. In turn, Mapplethorpe brought the formerly starched-shirt preppie to the world of drugs and gay S&M sex, well-documented in his still-startling photographs. Twenty-five years separated the lovers, but their relationship was symbiotic to its core, and the two remained together forever. The film also explores the relationship both men had with musician/poet Patti Smith, whose 1975 debut album Horses catapulted her to fame. The film features additional interviews with novelist Dominick Dunne, photographer Ralph Gibson and art historian John Richardson, among many others.

**Official Selection Tribeca International Film Festival
**Official Selection SilverDocs AFI/Discovery Documentary Festival

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
(11)
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sam Wagstaff Remembered 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The UnholyTrinity- Black White +Gray 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
3.0 out of 5 stars The Man Behind the Man February 6, 2013
Format:Amazon Instant Video|Verified Purchase
If you wanted to know the man behind Robert Mapplethorpe...or ,perhaps, the man behind Sam Wagstaff watch this documentary.

Both Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Wagstaff were amazing visionaries, but paired together they help bring photography to a new level. Sam has the eye and the money and Robert, definitely, flourishes under Sam's direction and patronage. However, there is more to this relationship than meets the eye. It made me think about what makes artists flourish and how a worthy patron can influence both the artist and the art.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in Black and White 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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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Robert in the Background April 2, 2008
Format:DVD
One would assume that artists are more famous than their patrons. You may think that this documentary would be about the two men equally. It's not; it's mostly about Sam Wagstaff. I am an African-American man who is greatly offended by many of Mapplethorpe's fetishizing photos presented in his "Black Book," so I didn't mind that he was not the focus here. However, his diehard fans may be disappointed.

Though the title of the film seems to have come from an art exhibit, it may allude to the relations between Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe, and a 1970s musician named Smith. A few of the interviewees said Robert used Sam to garner fame. However, it is never stated directly that the two lovers must not have been monogamous with each other. For those who are interested in the dynamics between gay lovers, especially cross-generational ones, this may be particularly interesting. A student could write a paper comparing this couple to Rimbaud and Verlaine, Wilde and Douglas, and several others.

The work would be accessible to almost all viewers. Still, since it speaks about art scenes and New York high society and Capote's ball and Christy's auctions, it may feel very elitist and snobby to some. The work emphasizes that Wagstaff was an important arbiter of good taste, but something about his collections did seem obsessive-compulsive. This is not Liberace where some can laugh at the gaudiness and decadence. Wagstaff's scene and entourage seemed quite exclusive and highbrow.

In 1993, Newsweek had a cover story about artists and AIDS. This work reminds me of that in that it lists the names and dates of deaths of many artists who have succumbed to the virus. Though I was not familiar with several of them, it still broke my heart. The overall tone of the documentary is not somber, but some may shed a few tears at this poignant moment in the work.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars What a duo
A film like this shows how two great talents can come together and bring out the best of both. Sad and powerful at the same time, these two creative human beings were meant for... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Denise Havlan
5.0 out of 5 stars DOOMED LOVE
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. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Nomlac
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating documentary about a forgotten photography pioneer
This tells of a photo collector who brought photography into the modern sphere, while also bankrolling the career of Robert Maplethorpe, his boyfriend. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Brad Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars Review of DVD Black White & Gray
I did not care for this DVD for the fact that it was more about Sam Wagstaff's life prior to his relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe rather than a documentary about their time... Read more
Published on November 28, 2011 by Maddie
5.0 out of 5 stars Neato!
This film made me remember a lot of important names in the art world that I've forgottn about since I went to art school. Read more
Published on December 30, 2009 by Erik Peterson
5.0 out of 5 stars great life story of a man who changed art collecting
I loved this documentary about Sam Wagstaff. He was a man with an incredible eye for art and particularly photography. Read more
Published on March 10, 2009 by Adrian
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