There are plenty of movies featuring photographers as protagonists, but fictional film stories where the photographic image plays a central and pivotal role are not so common. There is, for instance, the darkroom scene in Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), while another 1960s classic, the late Chris Marker’s La Jetée, is the most famous case of a film constructed almost entirely from still photographs, although the pictures were specially shot to tell the story rather than “found.” We might add, as a related celluloid meditation on the photographic image, the sequence in Godard’s Les Carabiniers (1963) where two soldiers unload and itemize the postcards in their suitcase, which I have mentioned here before.
Stephen Poliakoff’s three-part film for television, Shooting the Past, first transmitted by the BBC in 1999 and later shown on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre, goes much further than any of these examples. If you love photography and you haven’t seen it, then this is a film you need in your life. For 194 minutes, Shooting the Past dwells on the often ineffable mystery, beauty and power of the static photograph. It’s a film that haunts the memory for years, and masterpiece is the right word.
This looks like something I want to see.