Almost thirty years after his death, queer artist and photographer Robert Mappletorpe remains one of the most seminal queer influencers to come out the the '70s and '80s New York City art world.
Now, his legacy is being honored with a nuanced and powerful film from directors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, "Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures."
Released on HBO last month, "Mapplethorpe" has received critical accolades across the Atlantic and is about to begin a full-on international theatrical run in 55 theaters in England alone and more across Europe.
"The film has legs!" Barbato told The Huffington Post with a laugh. "You know, we certainly felt like we had an extraordinary responsibility with this film," he continued. "We not only had a responsibility to Mapplethorpe, to his legacy, to his work, which we’re fans of, but also to New York City in the '70s and the '80s -- a really special time. The artists, energy and spirit of that time are all things that I think Fenton and I hold really close to our hearts, partially because we were a part of it. We’re younger than Mapplethorpe, but we lived in new York in the '80s so it really meant a lot to us, making this film. We really poured our hearts into it and have been overwhelmed by the positive reception."
While Mapplethorpe photographed a wide variety of subjects, some of his best known work is highly controversial due to its sexual, even carnal, depictions of men in blunt and revealing black and white images. His work was so polarizing that he ignited what TIME dubbed "a culture war" when Senator Jesse Helms and a number of other congressmen tried to have the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) rescind the $30,000 the organization gave the Philly museum to feature the artist's photographs.
Helms' efforts ultimately proved to be fruitless.
For Barbato and Bailey, the duo behind other cult classic films like "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" and "Party Monster," this doc about the life, legacy and impact of Mapplethorpe seems like a natural progression for their work.
"There’s a lot in common [within our films] in that we’re sort of attracted to subjects that are either misunderstood or overexposed or under-revealed – there’s a lot in common in that respect. I think, though, that the other thing is our subjects often inform how we make the film, the approach, the style, the aesthetic/ I think that it’s not that this is a more grown up film, but it’s a more serious film than some of our previous work."
"Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures" is available for streaming on HBO, HBO Go and HBO Now.