If you’re fascinated by photography, then you might like the following list with photography movies. These are not documentaries, tutorials or movies by photographers, but rather fictional films with photographers as their main characters.
The Top Ten Photographer Movies
Under Fire (1983) is set in the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. An American photographer is torn between professional neutrality and his emotions. The movie has a beautiful soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith (including guitar parts played by Pat Metheny), and an impressive cast: Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, Joanna Cassidy, Ed Harris, and Jean-Louis Trintignant. The movie was internationally very successful but not in the USA under president Reagan who supported Nicaragua’s dictator Somoza. Director Roger Spottiswoode later realized one of the James Bond movies (Tomorrow Never Dies). This one and the next movies feature lots of Nikons F’s and Leica M’s.
Salvador (1986) by director Oliver Stone tells the story of an American journalist covering the Salvadoran civil war. Also by Oliver Stone and of the same year is Full Metal Jacket featuring a war correspondent in Vietnam (after the first part of the movie in the military drill camp).
City of God (2002) plays in the Cidade de Deus slum of Rio de Janeiro and describes the gang wars photographed by a guy trying to steer clear of the violent world. The cast consists of favela youths who were trained in actors’ workshops.
The Killing Fields (1984) is set in Cambodia during the takeover of the Khmer Rouge in 1975. The hasty retreat of the US troups has grave consequences for an American photojournalist and his local fixer.
Blow Up (1966) by director Michelangelo Antonioni is set in the Swinging Sixties in London. A fashion photographer photographs a scene in a park and discovers a figure in the shadows. The soundtrack was scored by Herbie Hancock, and there is a short appearance of the Yardbirds in a club with both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck playing guitars. Also by Antonioni is The Passenger (1975) with Jack Nicholson about a frustrated war correspondent changing his identity.
Palermo Shooting (2008) is a movie by Wim Wenders about a hip German fashion photographer suffering from anxiety attacks played by punk singer Campino who meets an art restorer in Palermo (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). Sometimes, his monologues get a bit cheesy. There are appearances by Dennis Hopper, Milla Jovovich, Peter Lindbergh and Lou Reed, and photographer Letizia Battaglia. Nice lineup of cameras (Seitz Roundshot, Plaubel Makina 67, Leica, Hasselblad), and other gadgets. There are extensive cultural references (e.g. medieval Dance of Death, Bergman’s Seventh Seal and Antonioni’s Blow Up), and rock songs dominantly form the backbone of the movie.
The Public Eye (1992) is based on the photographer Arthur Fellig “Weegee”, a photographer in the New York of the 1930s and 1940s. In film noir style, Joe Pesci plays a freelance photographer competing with the police to be first at the crime scene and taking photos with his 4×5 Speed Graphic camera with flashbulbs. Acting against his credo, he gets involved with one of the bloody mafia stories.
The Bang Bang Club (2010) describes the work of a group of South African photojournalists in the final days of the Apartheid regime in the Nineties. The movie is based on the biographic book written by Greg Marinovich and João Silva who worked with Kevin Carter and Ken Oosterbroek.
Apocalypse Now (1979) by Francis Ford Coppola actually doesn’t feature a photographer as its main character, but there is Dennis Hopper appearing at the end of the movie as a photojournalist (inspired by Tim Page) hung with a bunch of Nikons. Apocalypse Now transposes Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” from the Congo river into a Vietnam war setting and Cambodia’s jungle.
Rear Window (1954) by Alfred Hitchcock with James Stewart and Grace Kelly. A wheelchair bound photographer spies on his neighbours from his apartment window (using a 400 mm tele) and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. Apparently, the love affair between actress Ingrid Bergman and photographer Robert Capa – who met during the filming of Notorious – was an inspiration for Hitchcock.
Below are more movies that haven’t made it to my top ten list.
The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) about an Australian reporter (Mel Gibson) who tries to navigate the political turmoil of Indonesia in 1965, the relationship with his local photographer (Linda Hunt playing the role of a male), and an affair with a diplomat (Sigourney Weaver).
Blood Diamond (2006) with Leonardo DiCaprio (playing a conflict diamond smuggler) and Jennifer Connelly (an idealistic photojournalist) is set during the Sierra Leone Civil War in 1999. Solid.
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978). A fashion photographer (Faye Dunaway) in New York of the Seventies has hallucinations of murders that are investigated by a police detective (Tommy Lee Jones). Nice thriller.
Flags of Our Fathers (2006) by Clint Eastwood tells the story behind Jim Rosenthal’s famous staged photo of soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima. The Japanese view of the same battle is told in Letters from Iwo Jima. It’s not a movie about photography at all though.
The Bridges of Madison County (1995) directed by Clint Eastwood who plays the role of a National Geographic photographer in the Sixties falling in love with a farmer wife (Merryl Streep). There are better movies by Clint Eastwood as a director and/or actor (Million Dollar Baby, Changeling).
Closer (2004) by Mike Nichols (director of The Graduate, 1967). Julia Roberts as a photographer, Jude Law as a mediocre writer, Natalie Portman playing a stripper, and Clive Owen as a dermatologist deal with the interrelationships of two couples. Not much photography going on here and the stars except Natalie Portman aren’t convincing. Interesting plot though, and beautiful soundtrack by Damien Rice.
Die Fälschung (1981) directed by Volker Schlöndorff stars a young Bruno Ganz playing a journalist in Beirut during the Libanese Civil War.