"I hate these fuckin' interviews," Robert Frank says just a few moments into Laura Israel's Don't Blink, a vigorous documentary surveying the career and life of the photographer/filmmaker/one-man Beat happening. That clip, from midway through the Reagan era, finds Frank at his most rewardingly crotchety — or "arrogant," as some loved ones in Israel's film have it. After carping, the artist makes his case: He hates the steady falseness of talking-head framing, and he would appreciate it if his interviewers allowed him more freedom. He's more collaborative than combative in more recent footage. He calls the filmmakers' idea to pose him against a wall with his own movies projected over him "hateful," but he's nice about it.
Israel's willingness to honor Frank's own vision powers the film. A bravura early montage, crisply edited by Alex Bingham, wheels us through Frank's contact sheets and famous how-we-actually-live photographs from his 1958 book The Americans, shot during the Swiss immigrant's first U.S. road trip. The images -- the segregated South, Los Angeles' Skid Row, workers in a Ford factory -- still thrill, blunt and revelatory almost 60 years later. Then, as a rim-shot, we glimpse a Christie's auction where one truth-telling photo is snapped up for a half-million bucks.
From there, Don't Blink dashes through Frank's film work, with a refreshing emphasis on personal, homespun projects. (Of the Rolling Stones' decision not to release Frank's notorious '72 doc Cocksucker Blues, Frank shrugs, noting that he did get paid.) Throughout, Israel -- Frank's longtime editor and archivist -- centers Frank's own images, even capturing his habit of shooting the doc-makers themselves as he tour-guides them through his old Village haunts.