Mapplethorpe — the new film starring Matt Smith (Doctor Who, The Crown) as the late gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe — is not a perfect film.
Reviewers such as Variety's Peter Debruge have criticized the production for being "a rather banal biopic," whose director, Ondi Timoner, does not "capture what made the radical photographer tick."
However, the film does excel in going where most other movies — even those about gay subjects, like last year's Tom of Finland — shy away from. Mapplethorpe is unafraid to show nude men in addition to aspects of BDSM culture.
Granted, no actors are seen fisting one another onscreen. But scenes such as the morning-after of a threesome, which shows Mapplethorpe in bed with other naked men, and the photographer's visit to a sex dungeon, are such a rarity in cinema as to be remarkable.
And Mapplethorpe also offers a rare opportunity to see the photographer's works — from his eroticized flowers to the X Portfolio that includes a self-portrait of the artist with a bullwhip in his anus — on the big screen throughout a slideshow that extends throughout the production and into the credits.
Additionally, many of the photoshoots of these infamous portraits, such as the controversial "Man in Polyester Suit," are also portrayed in the film, as are Mapplethorpe's steamy romantic relationships with many of these subjects.
Below, a clip from Mapplethorpe portrays the struggle the gay artist had in convincing gallerists to display his work due to its queer and erotic themes. The film, by the way, was not rated by the Motion Pictures Association of America, which would undoubtedly have had a similar reaction to the shocked art world.
Mapplethorpe is out in limited release this weekend. See it as a queer history lesson or for that rare cinematic sight — a man urinating into a champagne glass.