How on earth do you make such an inert movie about a photographer (in)famous for a self portrait with a bullwhip jammed up his posterior, a man whose work resulted in the only time an American museum has gone to trial on obscenity charges? How do you hew so close to biopic conventions —a dutiful recitation of this event happened, that person showed up, this fame arrived, that tragedy struck, etc — when you’re dealing with an artist whose whole raison d’etre was finding beauty at the extreme edges of things? It’s possible that director Ondi Timoner was trying to avoid sensationalism and/or cheap thrills, but in the process, she took the story of a tortured lapsed Catholic who hooked up with singer Patti Smith before coming out and going under to document the NYC leather scene (while at the same time doing for photos of flowers what Georgia O’Keefe did for paintings of them) and flattened it to the point where the exposed penises have to provide all the drama. At several points — a confrontation with his adoring brother, his stern father’s visit to the gallery exhibit of his more explicit work — it feels like we’re headed for fireworks. But every time, someone stomps on the fuse with a studded motorcycle boot. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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