Editor’s Note: Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock opens in limited theatrical release today, April 7, 2017.
“I keep thinking that something went very wrong,” chuckles Mick Rock, the British photographer, at yet another major showing of his iconic work. “We were supposed to be rebels and outsiders.” But the rebels of the past are destined to become mainstream, and Rock was no exception, as we learn in Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock. Rock is best known for his glossy, glam photos of 1970s rock stars — and yes, Mick Rock is his real name. He photographed and partied with some of the biggest legends of the day, and called musicians like Lou Reed and David Bowie friends.
His home archive is a jumbled mess, with iconic portraits of Queen wedged into an attic corner right next to sensible purchases of Fancy Feast; Mick Rock is a man who knows how to buy in bulk and save.
Rock, educated in literature at Cambridge and never trained in photography, fell into the profession after taking photos of his musician friends, and ultimately shooting the cover of Syd Barrett’s album The Madcap Laughs. From there, he would become “The Man Who Shot the Seventies,” photographing some of the biggest names in glam rock. His early work, while fetchingly unpolished, tended to be unadventurous, and when shown in chronological order as it is in Shot!, you realize that, in Mick Rock’s photos, Marc Bolan looks like David Bowie looks like Lou Reed looks like Iggy Pop looks like David Johansen.
But Rock got better, and he also got famous. Charming and insightful in his elder years, he sports a chameleonic demeanor and speaks in practiced one-liners. A little dotty at home, he’s a badass rock star when seated in front of his name in 20-foot lights, a naughty old man when on the late show, and right out of Antonioni’s Blow-Up when at work. The film wisely lets you get used to him for about 30 minutes before the really eccentric stuff starts to come out, but mama, that’s where the fun is. His home archive is a jumbled mess, with iconic portraits of Queen wedged into an attic corner right next to sensible purchases of Fancy Feast; Mick Rock is a man who knows how to buy in bulk and save.
The film wisely lets you get used to him for about 30 minutes before the really eccentric stuff starts to come out, but mama, that’s where the fun is.
Shot! would much rather talk about Rock’s glory days, starting in the late sixties and lasting over a decade, but the film is centered around the 20th anniversary of the photographer’s quadruple bypass surgery, and the dark side of his rock ‘n’ roll excesses can’t be ignored. After years of drugs and hard partying and endless nights, Rock found himself in the midst of a low period, making money for drugs by directing heavy metal videos with iffy songs inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, something he’s more than willing to laugh at. The film seems more embarrassed about his lesser gigs in the 1980s than he does, which is a shame, since Rock is acutely aware of his own limitations, his own somewhat typical upbringing, his own moments of mediocrity, and that insight is what makes Rock fascinating, but Shot! can’t bring itself to accept that he’s anything but a rock god.
There’s plenty of the requisite 1970s rock documentary touches in Shot!, including a few real howlers of not-so-accidental juxtaposition, such as when Rock, discussing his own drug problems, mentions when cocaine began to “seep into the culture” as a picture of Elton John, resplendent in his Philadelphia Freedom-era short pants and complementary goofy grin, floats across the screen.
Also here are taped recordings of conversations between Rock and an indifferent and slightly irritated Lou Reed, the exact kind of recordings that featured so heavily in last year’s Danny Says. (Danny Fields, as you would expect, shows up in a photo or two.) But there are recordings of talks with Bowie, too, far more interesting and insightful, declaring that it never matters what the artist’s intentions are, and besides, “no single artist has ever changed the world.” Maybe he’s right, but it’s impossible not to look at Mick Rock’s work and wonder how different the world would be had he not shot the cover of Reed’s Transformer, or Queen’s eponymous second album, or directed Bowie’s 1973 video for “Life on Mars.”
Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock gives us the life according to Mick Rock, best known for his glossy, glam photos of 1970s rock stars. He photographed and partied with some of the biggest legends of the day, and called musicians like Lou Reed and David Bowie friends.