Movie Review: An Unlikely Weapon
Over the past few weeks I had received many emails from friends and fellow photographers regarding the release of “An Unlikely Weapon,” a film chronicling the life, and photographs, of legendary Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams.
A movie about a photojournalist. Okay, you already have me there. But a movie about a photographer who created himself in the battlefield of Vietnam, and now I’m all in. The imagery of that war, and the power it had on the collective mindset of the world, was what got me into photography in the first place.
I was young enough, and isolated enough to have ZERO memories of Vietnam. Nothing. Not even one nightly news show from the confines of our Indiana house.
So when I saw those pictures for the first time I was frozen. THIS is the power of good photography.
Eddie Adams is one of the crew that immediately pops to mind when photographers think of Vietnam, of photojournalism, etc. This is very much the case because of one particular image he made, an image that many people feel changed the course of the war.
The film goes far beyond this one image, and if you don’t know the image I’m referring to, look it up. You will know it. I don’t need to really go into depth here, but in short, Eddie’s picture was of the South Vietnamese officer shooting the Viet Cong prisoner in the head in the middle of a Saigon street.
I would imagine about now this image is in your mind, whether or not you are looking at it in real time. THIS is the power of great photography.
But I have to say, the movie allowed me to see things from a different angle, especially regarding this image. Not only did I learn of how Eddie felt about it, but I also learned more about what happened to the guy pulling the trigger. What I learned reinforced the absurdity of war, not just Vietnam, but all wars, and also magnified the cruelty that ranges on long after the shell casings have stopped falling. The politics, the shame, the unfairness, etc, etc. It goes on and on.
I was fortunate enough to meet Eddie a few times over the years, but unfortunate to not really have had any long conversations, just brief encounters, twice at his workshop in upstate New York, and once at a party at his famous Bath House Studio in NYC.
Speaking of his workshop, the movie also touched on this, and how the program really came to life. It is a unique platform, and the list of my friends who have attended is long. Most of them are still making it as photographers, and I know, as least in part, it had to do with Eddie’s program.
The film goes on to chronicle his life after war, the celebrity work, years of reinvention and studio building, but it also touched on that unquenchable thirst for perfection that many creative people have. The unrest, the drive, the passion that can manifest itself in both positive and negative forms.
I think for me it also made me miss some things about the past. I think when Eddie was at his prime the idea of being a wire service photographer was such a cool thing. There was a respect level, a way of working, etc, that I just don’t see today. I’ve never been a real wire service photographer, only done some stringing here and there, but the days of that field being what it was intended to be seem to be long gone. It’s too bad.
And lastly, I found one really funny, but poignant moment in this film that left me laughing long after I departed the theatre. There is a film segment showing Eddie photographing what looks like some guy herding cattle from a small airplane. The guy is only about ten feet off the ground, and he comes flying up, right above the cows, then pulls up at the last minute. There is Eddie, right on the other side of the cows. It’s absurd. If the slightest thing went wrong, you would have had a smoldering mass of beef and Nikon parts. The camera pans to the left and you see Eddie laughing and saying something. A smile on his face.
That moment to me was what a photographers life is all about. You could describe that moment, like I’ve done here, but it doesn’t come close to really being there. Photographers live these moments all the time, far more than the average civilian. I think these are the moments that make photographers go on. These are the moments we live for. You file them away and draw from them when things are not going right, or you need a good laugh. I wonder just how many of these moments he had, and these are the things I would have loved to discuss with him.
I strongly recommend seeing this film, supporting its creation, and learning more about this guy.
The photo I have included here is of Eddie’s son August whom I met last year at the workshop. My fingers are crossed he is out shooting as we speak.