There may be more accomplished, more famous “rock” photographers than Mick Rock.
But none were born with that perfect and instantly-memorable name. And few could match his stories, gathered from his insider, embedded background in the glam, punk and New Wave scenes of the 70s and 80s.
“Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock” is just Mick, telling those stories, rummaging through his vast archives, sharing the incisive insights of a smart, Cambridge educated artist who just happened to make his art by taking pictures of an era in music.
Barnaby Clay is the credited director, but as the filmed interview is shot in black and white, as it is framed in a recreation of Rock’s 1996 near death experience and as it follows him — still working, still shooting concerts and album covers and fashion spreads with rockers — you’d swear the 69 year-old master of stills and early music videos was directing himself.
Rock has the vainglorious swagger, the self-studied style polished by years in the spotlight. And he delivers the expected bravura — “I’m an assassin. I’ve got my sights on you, and I’m going to take you out!”
He broke through with Pink Floyd alumnus Syd Barrett, made his mark by attaching himself to David Bowie (and through him Lou Reed and Iggy Pop) and blew up with that iconic cover to “Queen II.” Which, in the best of his “How I got that shot” anecdotes, Rock admits he cribbed from an iconic image of Marlene Dietrich.
That’s the genius of his method. He took a lot of great concert shots — of Bowie, Reed, Marley, et al. But for his fabulous posed images, Rock made a visual association.
Freddie Mercury, rock’s rising glamour “queen?” Dietrich. Joan Jett? Elvis. Talking Heads? “Children of the Damned.” Debbie “Blondie” Harry? “Monroe. Lolita.”
Rock, who hosted a provocative rock profiles TV show a couple of years back, can drop Rimbaud and Baudelaire and snippets of poetry and French into his bon mots. He has audio cassettes of conversations with Bowie and Reed to prove the closeness of his connection to him.
He’s frank about the poor pay, and his photo barter system for drugs when he was “heavily chemicalized” and least dependable. “Carly Simon said, ‘Oh he’s the best. But after the shoot, you can’t ever find him” to get the negatives and finish the job.
He’s obsessed with Reed, endlessly dropping the proto-punk poet’s name, lamenting that they fell out, for a time, because Rock was supposed to shoot Reed’s wedding and was a “chemicalized” no-show.
But for all the name-dropping and self-serving, self-glamorizing anecdotes, there’s a disarming casualness about Rock. Yeah, he shot The Ramones (“Ugliest band on the scene. At the time.”), but there were Motley Crue and Carly Simon shoots, and all these forgotten bands whose album covers he kept and looks at now with a “What the f— was THAT about?” And he’s there with TV on the Radio and Snoop and Father John Misty, just to show he’s still hip. Or determined to appear that way.
And he is, and “Shot!” makes for a light, smart and often funny/trippy dance through an era with the man whose images made icons out of many, and burned those icons into our visual memory.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with drug use, nudity, profanity
Cast: Mick Rock, Lou Reed, David Bowie
Credits:Directed by, script by Barnaby Clay . A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:30