Film Review – Show Me The Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall

We are in a golden age of music documentaries, quite possibly the platinum age. For the fan, this plethora of offerings is almost an embarrassment of riches.

Alfred George Bailey’s Show Me The Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall is a satisfying look at Jim Marshall, from both sides of Marshall’s lens.

Marshall is known for at least two things, being one of the early (and hence iconic) music photographers and for often being a real prick. This documentary pulls no punches.

The film is mostly a chronological treatment of Marshall’s life, with the glaring exception being the oddly positioned closing sequence about Woodstock. It was an editorial decision to not caption Marshall’s stills, so that the famous and the less famous subjects are treated equally.

It is easy to recognize onstage or backstage photos as presumably picturing someone famous, but when the narration discusses shooting jazz musicians elsewhere, the lines between fame and quotidian blur nicely. But not the photos, they are well chosen to represent the invisibility Marshall attained with his subjects.

Which in turn raises the perennial question, would anyone with a camera given access come up with a few good photos? Over the years I have gingerly asked several world class rock photographers, wouldn’t anyone with a camera at the edge of the stage when The Who or Led Zeppelin was performing in the 70s get a few good shots?

Regardless, there was Marshall, at the epicenter of Haight Ashbury as it began to mushroom into the nation’s consciousness and in Greenwich Village when Dylan was knocking around as a near unknown, with Woody Allen uptown at about the same point in his early career arc. And there is Marshall at Monterey when Jimi burns his guitar, at the Beatles last concert performance, on the Stones’ early 70s tours, and up on the towers at Woodstock.

Anton Corbijn (famous for his grainy U2 images) answers the ongoing conundrum succinctly, “without access, no picture.” As has been stated by other world class rock photographers, the prime directive is to engender a complete trust with the subject, such that the camera and its operator become invisible.

Graham Nash, himself no slouch in the photography department, provides a current day perspective. He describes having returned to Los Angeles in the late 1960s to spend time with Joni Mitchell. There he meets up with Crosby and Stills, and lives were changed. Marshall’s image capture that nexus.

Marshall is described by an array of talking heads (Michael Douglas, Duane Allman’s daughter Galadrielle, Jorma Kaukonen, among many others) as a curmudgeon and a pain in the ass. He is also a troubling enigma, with a love of guns and a passion to shoot peace signs. His descent into drugs fractured many of his close relationships, and the film does a good job of baring the hurt and anger of friends. To his credit, Marshall (who died in 2010) admits he messed up too often; no doubt carrying knives and guns along with his cameras into concerts crossed a line.

Marshall also describes well the dramatic transition from when photographers owned the copyright in their work to the current situation where photographers do works-made-for-hire, thereby relinquishing control of the use of the images.

The film relies on significant footage to portray the eras represented. For those readily familiar with epic performances at Monterey or Woodstock, the footage seems superfluous. But as Johnny Cash’s son points out, there was no video shot at his Dad’s performance at Fulsom Prison. Instead, Marshall provided the visual record of that famous concert.

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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