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Harry Benson: Shoot First (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 87 minutes

OK for children

This is a fascinating documentary of Harry Benson, known for all his celebrity photographs, especially of The Beatles. It’s told by Harry and others and is best reviewed by quotes:

Harry: “I only talk through my photographs. I shot lots of stories that other photographers didn’t want.”

Dan Rather: “He shoots loners because photographers are loners.”

Cornelia Guest, deb of the decade:  ““Harry was wild; Harry knew what to get.”

He took a shot of Deborah Norville breast-feeding her baby which became very controversial. Harry says, “She didn’t tell me to do that. The baby just appeared and she was over by the window breast-feeding.”

Norville said, “The bosses at NBC actually said of this photograph, 'this will typecast Deborah in that motherhood role and be negative for her career.' Can you imagine that someone you work for said something so harsh about something that is so natural? The publicity was so enormous that after I resigned my position in NBC, my husband very wisely said, ‘We need to leave the country’.”

Greta Garbo’s nephew Derek Reisfield, said of a surreptitious photo that Harry took of her while she was vacationing and swimming in the ocean that she felt it was a “gross intrusion into her privacy. How would you like it if someone took a photo of you swimming on a beach without your permission and published it everywhere? She was just off on vacation.”

Harry said Barbra Streisand walked off the stage of her Central Park concert and said to him, “Why don’t you f--- off?”

After he took a picture of President Ford for Time Magazine and when it was published, Harry complained, “It was my picture, painted by Andy Warhol. It was like a child who comes and scribbles all over your picture. It’s not his. It’s criminal. The picture actually belongs to me. It’s my photograph. I never gave any permission. A couple weeks after at a party I told him (Warhol) about it and he said, ’Did they pay you for it?’ And I said,’ yes but not as much as you got, I bet’.”

Harry tells the fascinating story of how he got the job of shooting Joe Namath’s bachelor pad in New York.

In addition to anecdote after anecdote, the film is filled with pictures of celebrities like Kate Moss, NY Post editor Emily Smith, Grace Kelly, George Burns, Yogi Berra, Frank Sinatra at Truman Capote’s infamous Bland & White Ball, a bald Liz Taylor after major surgery, Roman Polanski, James Brown, Michael Jackson, the list goes on and on.

It’s brilliantly put together by writers/directors Matthew Miele and Justin Bare. Be sure you watch the outtakes under the closing credits. Now on Amazon Video.