An American Journey – Film following Frank’s footsteps

Below is a short introduction and trailer to Philippe Séclier’s film ‘An American Journey’ which follows in the footsteps of Frank’s own journey. We are keen to hear from any who have seen the film and could offer their comments? The DVD is available here.

UPDATE: A excerpt of Rich Beaubien’s review for the film is shown below. His full review can be seen in the comments section. Big thanks to Rich for this!

In contemporary photography, everybody agrees there is a “before” and an “after” The Americans, Robert Frank’s 1958 photographic manifesto.

Half a century later, French director Philippe Séclier decided to follow in Robert Frank’s footsteps to explore the spirit of the “Beat Generation” and the impact of his book, The Americans, not only on the art of photography, but also on american culture.

From Texas to Montana, from Nebraska to Louisiana, from New York to San Francisco, An American Journey is a 15,000 miles odyssey through contemporary America, moving between past and present, photography and cinema, and two Americas, separated by time.

Though I’ve picked up many ideas about visual structure from cinematographers and films I’m just not a regular movie-goer so my not having seen this film is both typical and true but seeing a Twitter message come across my screen from the folks here at The Photo Book Club piqued my interest.

Philippe Séclier’s engaging, one hour long, documentary starts out as a film about the making of a book. Séclier spent two years (2005-2007) retracing the Frank travels around the United States interweaving interviews with attempts to revisit a handful of the book’s most famous photos.

San Francisco-area photographer Wayne Morris describes how Frank made a ‘first cut’ by actually cutting individual frames from strips of negatives and skipped making contact sheets. Anne Tucker the curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas thumbs through the dummy of the book made by Robert Frank in 1957.

Sarah Greenough, a curator at the National Gallery of Art and curator of the exhibition Looking in: Robert Frank’s The Americans and editor of the catalogue, is seen thumbing through some beautiful photographs that Frank did not to include in his book. “He could have made an even more negative view of America,” she says.

Stuart Alexander speaks of the initial critical reception of The Americans that the photos were not about “all” Americans and maybe “Some Americans” was more appropriate.But the film isn’t really about Robert Frank or The Americans it’s about Séclier’s view of America and as Ed Ruscha acknowledges in the film, “It takes an outsider, really, to show us what’s it all about. We don’t know ourselves.”

I recommend the film for those you haven’t seen it. It’s only an hour and if you are familiar with Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ it will be a well spent enjoyable hour.

- Rich Beaubien

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4 Responses to An American Journey – Film following Frank’s footsteps

  1. An American Journey: Revisiting Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’

    Though I’ve picked up many ideas about visual structure from cinematographers and films I’m just not a regular movie-goer so my not having seen this film is both typical and true but seeing a Twitter message come across my screen from the folks here at The Photo Book Club piqued my interest.

    Philippe Séclier’s engaging, one hour long, documentary starts out as a film about the making of a book. Séclier spent two years (2005-2007) retracing the Frank travels around the United States interweaving interviews with attempts to revisit a handful of the book’s most famous photos.

    Frank does not appear in the film but his spirit is there – most of all by seeing the book’s pages flipped through again and again.

    The film begins with an image of a road trip highway at night. The shots are out-of-focus and skewed. But there’s sound, something that is not present in Frank’s photos. After a while though the purposely 1950’s point-of-view, out-of-focus filming comes off just looking blurry. These segues clutter this interesting film – it is the interviews that really engage one’s attention and throughout I couldn’t wait until the next segment to begin.

    And those segments are what make the film so enjoyable…

    I’m pretty sure it’s Martin Gasser the curator at the Swiss Foundation for the Photography who connects Frank’s background as a German Jew forced to flee to Switzerland (where Frank had trained as a photographer’s apprentice in Zurich) and eventually to the US, to the outcasts in the book.

    Frank’s printer, Sidney Kaplan talks about printing for Frank. There’s a wonderful mention about the iconic New Orleans trolley photo and the technical difficulty in printing it.

    San Francisco-area photographer Wayne Morris describes how Frank made a ‘first cut’ by actually cutting individual frames from strips of negatives and skipped making contact sheets.

    Anne Tucker the curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas thumbs through the dummy of the book made by Robert Frank in 1957.

    Sarah Greenough, a curator at the National Gallery of Art and curator of the exhibition Looking in: Robert Frank’s The Americans and editor of the catalogue, is seen thumbing through some beautiful photographs that Frank did not to include in his book. “He could have made an even more negative view of America,” she says.

    Jno Cook provides some light relief while talking about creating the traced line drawings of The Robert Frank Coloring Book.

    The owner of Finlen Hotel (Butte, Montana), Frank Taras, takes you into what he believes is the room from which Frank took the roof top window.

    Séclier talks with Telester Smiley about Frank’s photo of her and her husband Mack on a Harley-Davidson in Indianapolis, Indiana.

    Stuart Alexander speaks of the initial critical reception of The Americans that the photos were not about “all” Americans and maybe “Some Americans” was more appropriate.

    But the film isn’t really about Robert Frank or The Americans it’s about Séclier’s view of America and as Ed Ruscha acknowledges in the film, “It takes an outsider, really, to show us what’s it all about. We don’t know ourselves.”

    I recommend the film for those you haven’t seen it. It’s only an hour and if you are familiar with Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ it will be a well spent enjoyable hour.

  2. BTW for those of you who are in the US I watched this via NetFlix streaming across a Roku connection.

  3. Thank you for this video.

    Listen to the interview with ‘all things considered’with Robert Frank and Meyerowitz here: http://www.harpreetkhara.com/archives/20841

  4. Thank you for this video.

    Listen to the interview with ‘all things considered’ with Robert Frank and Meyerowitz here: http://www.harpreetkhara.com/archives/20841

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