Frank's moving pictures
Frank's moving pictures

The Diary of Rob Frank

In Robert Frank's 1971 autobiographical film, About Me: A Musical, he makes a peculiar decision: He casts a young actress named Lynn Reyner to play his part. Reyner not only is the wrong age and sex but also the Swiss-born Frank's antithesis -- thin and delicate with a mop of long curly hair and an uncertain New York accent. Wrapped Jesus-like in a bedspread, Reyner drifts about Frank's New York apartment, followed by an entourage of hippie reporters. When asked the question "What are you looking for in your work?" Reyner responds, "I'm trying to get the past, present and future all in one."

Frank was commissioned to make a film about American music but used the funding for a self-portrait with improvised music (of questionable quality). Being rightfully recognized as one of the most important living photographers after breaking conventions in his 1950s photo series "The Americans," Frank was granted a few artistic liberties by his funders. Frank's later autobiographical films and videos have an intense self-reflection fueled by personal tragedy (the losses of his two children and his creative peers).

In conjunction with the photography exhibit on view at the museum, MFAH films will be screening five of Frank's recent and restored works. Frank's approach may initially frustrate those who crave steady camera work and linear narratives. They are completely intuitive and largely improvised, with a great focus on the unremarkable. He begins with the subjects closest to him: his wife, June Leaf, their rural home in Nova Scotia and New York apartment, letters and photographs, the unmade beds around the house, the people who visit, and the mundane activities outside his window. Whether the subject is Alfred Stieglitz (I Remember), the Chinese artist Sanyu (Sanyu) or music in America (About Me: A Musical), Frank manages to use his own life as the backdrop. His wandering narration often hangs in mid-sentence, like a man overwhelmed by what life has dealt him.


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