Even a rock ‘n’ roll die-hard could be forgiven for not knowing the name Mick Rock. Odds are if you ever picked up a rock ‘n’ roll record from the ‘70s you’ve seen the handy work of Mick Rock. Over the course of his illustrious career, Rock photographed the covers for classic albums by David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, the Ramones, and Queen, as well as many, many more. Now the acclaimed rock photographer is the subject of a candid documentary that explores how this Englishman left behind his classical education and became “the man who photographed the ‘70s” in director Barney Clay’s SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock.
In many regards, SHOT! Isn’t too different than countless other rock documentaries in the way it allows its subject to reflect on his life and work. It contains Mick Rock candidly talking about how he lucked into photography while in college one evening while on a number of hallucinatory substances. Sure that he captured something special, Rock only later learns that there was no film in the camera. From that moments forward, Mick Rock would be with his camera. Mick Rock’s first moments of rock ‘n’ roll photography came in the form an album cover for Syd Barrett, the founding member of Pink Floyd, for his first solo record. The photographer candidly reviews the shots from that day and explains the combination of luck and talent that went into capturing the cover’s image.
Where SHOT! Kicks into gear is when it gets to the most famous chapter in the life of Mick Rock – his time as the personal photographer of David Bowie. At the height of the Glam Rock movement, Bowie was an iconic cultural force and Mick Rock was behind the camera for some of the most indelible images of the legendary rocker. That would lead to more and more work as Bowie’s fame grew and he started collaborating with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Mick Rock is there to review the photographs that became the iconic covers to Lou Reed’s Transformer and Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power. This just cemented his status as the rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest photographer.
As happens in most stories of rock ‘n’ roll, especially rock in the ‘70s, chemical excess becomes an issue and Rock is candid about his struggles with various substances. This leads to a chapter in Rock’s life where he’s near death due to a number of issues with his heart. Barney Clay recreates the scene with an actor laying on a stretcher as Rock recalls the inward thinking that these health complications brought to his mind. It’s really in these aspect of the film that SHOT! differentiates itself from the pack of rock ‘n’ roll documentaries.
This is a documentary that is made for a rather narrow audience of rock fans, but for that audience there’s a lot to like about SHOT! There are plenty of rare photos and filmed footage of rock icons like Bowie and Iggy Pop. Adding to the mixture of amusing anecdotes that Mick Rock provides about these rock legends are recorded conversations, including some frank discussions with Lou Reed. (Oddly enough, this is the second recent documentary featuring audio taped conversations with Reed. In last year’s Danny Says, Reed is on tape proclaim his love for the Ramones. In this film, he isn’t exactly a fan. Which is it, Lou?!?) The movie briskly moves through the decades in examining the life and work of Mick Rock and is certainly worth the time for any true rock ‘n’ roll fan.
For a documentary about a photographer, Barney Clay makes sure that SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock is photographed to the high standards of its subject. This film has a very unique look that makes its as visually appealing as its subject matter. The work of Mick Rock, which by the way is his birth name, will endure through the years because it’s attached to some of the greatest albums ever made, albums that have only become more revered with time. It’s nice to know that there’s a documentary worthy of the stories that are behind all those iconic album covers.