Music Photographer Mick Rock’s Magical Mystery Movie, ‘SHOT!’ (L.A. Premiere Recap)

Rock Cellar Magazine

Star-Studded Cinema Premiere Rocks L.A.

The star-studded Los Angeles premiere of SHOT!? The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock took place April 5 at the Pacific Theatres at The Grove. Rock Cellar Magazine covered the red carpet, screening and panel discussion about the documentary’s subject, legendary British photographer Mick Rock.

From swinging London to New York’s underground, Rock was to Glam, Punk and Metal what Ansel Adams was to Yosemite, capturing – as Mick put it – “the aura” of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Freddie Mercury, et al, in pictures.

Rock sought to visualize the sounds and lifestyles of the rockers in the photographic medium. According to press notes, he photographed “album covers for [Pink Floyd founder] Syd Barrett’s Madcap Laughs, Lou Reed’s Transformer and Coney Island Baby, Iggy and The Stooges’ Raw Power, Queen’s Queen II (recreated for their classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video) and Sheer Heart Attack, The Ramones’ End of the Century and Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, among many others. He was the chief photographer on the films The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

Penelope Spheeris mugs for the paparazzi as Mick Rock embraces her, with Barnaby Clay – they are flanked by Marisa Polvino (R) and Kate Cohen (L) of Straight Up Films. Photo: Ed Rampell

As a multitude of paparazzi, appropriately, opened fire, the luminaries who trod the red carpet inside the Pacific Theatres ranged from Punks to porn stars, producers to pianists, guitarists to groupies, fashion designers to graphic designers, actors to directors, models to musicians, Metal to managers and more. All had turned out to pay homage to SHOT!?’s shutterbug, Mick Rock (his real name!), including:

Billy Idol and Penelope Spheeris, with publicists. Photo: Ed Rampell

British Punk rocker Billy Idol, lead singer of Generation X and author of the 2014 autobiography  Dancing With Myself

British singer/songwriter/author Kelly Osbourne, who co-starred on The Osbournes reality TV series with her parents, Ozzy and Sharon.

Brad Wilk and Juliette Lewis (Photo: Ed Rampell)

Actress/musician Juliette Lewis, who performed with the Licks and co-starred in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, Kalifornia and Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, for which she was nominated for the Oscar and Golden Globe, accompanied by Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk.

Kaya and David A. Stewart, vocalist and guitarist with Annie Lennox in the Eurythmics.

Penelope Spheeris, director of The Decline of Western Civilization trilogy chronicling the Punk Rock scene and of Wayne’s World. (When I told Spheeris I’d interviewed her Greek cousin, three-time Academy Award winner Costa-Gavras, who directed masterpieces such as Z and Missing and called him “a genius,” Penelope laughed and said: “We have the same DNA.”) Others who walked the red carpet included:

LInda Ramone (photo: Ed Rampell)

Philanthropist Linda Ramone, wife of the late Johnny Ramone.

Karen O, lead singer and pianist of the indie rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs and wife of SHOT!? filmmaker Barnaby Clay, who appears in her husband’s film as a character called “the Model.”

Director Barnaby Clay and Karen O. (Photo: Ed Rampell)

Amanda and Shepard Fairey, the graphic designer and street artist who created 2008’s iconic Barak Obama “Hope” campaign poster.

Record producer and former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham.

Über-groupie Pamela Des Barres, who has written memoirs about her romances with various musical superstars.

Photographer Steve Hash, creative director for recording labels such as Atlantic and Warner Brothers, with designer Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter Ally.

Clifton Collins Jr., who co-starred in the 2005 movie Capote and in HBO’s Westworld series.

Producers Marisa Polvino and Kate Cohen of Straight Up Films, SHOT!’s production company.

The tattooed Brent Hinds, guitarist/vocalist of the Metal band Mastodon.

Mick Rock meets with Brett Hinds of Mastodon. (Photo: Ed Rampell)

Actress/model Mena Suvari, who appeared in 1999’s American Beauty as the teenage beauty Kevin Spacey’s character fantasized about, plus in the American Pie franchise and the HBO series Six Feet Under.

Competitive mustache champion, musician, DJ and fashion designer Alexander Antebi, aka “Conquistador.”

Filmmaker James Costa, director of the 2011 documentary Lunch Hour.

Singer, songwriter and actress Elle King, daughter of actor Rob Schneider and ex-model London King.

Former porn star Sasha Gray, model, author, musician and actress, who had a recurring role in HBO’s Entourage.

Cosmic Biopic: A Psychedelic Eclectic Aesthetic

In SHOT! “Barnaby Clay breaks all the rules of documentary filmmaking,” proclaimed fellow director Penelope Spheeris. “And Barnaby did so, beautifully,” added Spheeris, who introduced and moderated a post-screening panel discussion inside of The Grove’s packed Pacific Theatres.

In rendering onscreen Mick Rock’s extraordinary career, what Clay created is an offbeat biopic with a filmic form that matches and expresses its counter-cultural subject matter, just as Rock did in photographically documenting icons of glam, punk and metal music. The subtitle of Clay’s nonfiction motion picture – The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock – suggests the style and shape of SHOT!, which covers a drug-fueled demimonde. Call it a visual bohemian rhapsody or a photographic memory being blown on Purple Owsley, with some scenes suggesting the grand finale of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Unlike in many docs, the 95-ish minute SHOT!  has no of-screen narrator or onscreen host, as in Michael Moore’s films, for instance. According to Clay, a former film school student, “I chose to eliminate the array of talking heads that we’ve become so accustomed to and instead make this ‘Mick’s story,’ his version of the events. I’m into poetic license and I’m into rock n’ roll lore, so the idea of this being a story driven solely from Mick’s perspective was really interesting to me. I also decided that with Mick having such an extensive archive, including magical material never seen before, I didn’t want to bring any ‘outside’ stock footage into the mix. We’re on Mick’s private planet for the duration of the film. As the title suggests, this is the ‘Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock’ – a cosmic state where rock ‘n’ roll collides with spirituality, poetry and the mysteries of artistic process.”

Mick Rock meets with Brett Hinds of Mastodon. (Photo: Ed Rampell)

Thus, most of SHOT! is told in Mick’s own words. As he relates, attending Cambridge University the British-born Rock approached the counterculture in the late sixties and early seventies primed by an avant-garde mind set influenced by the English Romantic poets, playwright/novelist Oscar Wilde and Clockwork Orange. Encountering figures such as Bowie and Iggy at the dawn of their careers as they were being fired into the stratosphere, star struck Rock regarded them as “mythological characters, chimeras, not humans.”

From London to Manhattan, Mick goes along for the ride with them, shooting them onstage and backstage, for album covers, magazines, newspapers, etc., but Rock eventually discovers that he’s all too human. Years of pursuing a decadent lifestyle – going sans sleep for days at a time, imbibing, dropping acid, snorting coke – inevitably catch up with him.

He became, to paraphrase a Bowie-related term, “The Photographer Who Fell to Earth”: in the mid-1990s Rock has three heart attacks and quadruple-bypass surgery. At the beginning of SHOT! what’s supposed to be the photographer lies atop a gurney, an oxygen mask on his face, in a hospital room. These scenes recur throughout the documentary. (In so doing, without labeling these vignettes “reenactments,” Clay cracks one of filmmaking’s golden rules by apparently fobbing off fictional footage as actuality.)

Sometimes Rock posed his subjects; other times, as he was part of that demiworld himself, Mick deployed a fly-on-the-wall technique to shoot his rockers behind the scenes. Much of the Rock doc uses his treasure trove of still photos and archival moving images, taking us on an insider’s odyssey, a veritable magical mystery tour, to witness Bowie during the early Ziggy Stardust days, Lou Reed during the Velvet Underground period and so on.

Thank God this photographer was a pack-rat who hoarded not only his pictures, but also audio reels of him in candid conversations with Reed, Bowie, etc., with clips from them played in the film. (The soundtrack includes songs by them, too.) Repeat shots of Rock peering at slides, contact prints, negatives and the like perched atop a glowing light box that is otherworldly radiant make him loom like the mystic swami of rock ‘n’ roll imagery.

One of the best things SHOT! does is reveal Rock’s creative process. For example, he explains how director Josef von Sternberg’s soft focus archetypal images of Marlene Dietrich around the time of her 1932 Hollywood classic Shanghai Express inspired him to pose Freddie Mercury for 1974’s Queen II album cover. In doing so, 40 years later, Mick slyly transposed Marlene into Mercury.

Although it is a feature and not a documentary, the rock flick SHOT! is arguably most similar to is Head, the heady 1968 Monkees movie co-written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, who also directed, which conveyed the counterculture’s sensibility. And in terms of lens men, it is as wild a ride as Dziga Vertov’s 1929 visual masterpiece, The Man with the Movie Camera.

Still Rocking After All These Years

Married to musician Karen O, Clay intuitively grasps the avant-garde ethos and aesthetic of rock music, giving SHOT! a free-form, psychedelic, cosmic consciousness vibe. During the post-movie Q&A, Rock proudly insisted he had major “input” into shaping the biopic about him. In addition to Clay and Rock, Shepard Fairey and David A. Stewart took part in the panel discussion, moderated by Spheeris. Both on the red carpet and in the director’s chair for the post-screening conversation, Mick Rock came across as positively jaunty and jovial, in good form. He was in high spirits and although his visage is a bit craggy now, Rock – who enjoys standing on his head – seemed fit, and he still wears his hair long.

Rock was adamant in telling Spheeris and the Pacific Theatres audience that while he’s very much a figure of a certain epoch, the star of SHOT!  “is still shooting – it’s my favorite thing to do.” Although his photography didn’t make him rich back in the day, nowadays it’s paying dividends and he’s “doing tons of books” based on his vintage photos. According to press notes, Rock’slatest publication The Rise of David Bowie 1972-1973 (with David Bowie), (Taschen Books, published September 2015), is a spectacular limited edition co-signed with Bowie, sold out just before David’s death. It was Taschen’s fastest-ever selling limited edition publication.

The press notes added that Rock,in reality never shopped shooting. His recent subjects include Snoop Dogg, Father John Misty, Lenny Kravitz , Janelle Monae, Jimmy Fallon, The Black Keys, Karen O, Ellie Goulding, Alicia Keys, Michael Buble, Daft Punk, Perry Farrell, Motley Crue, TV On The Radio, Pharrell, Josh Groban, Flaming Lips, Nas, Rufus Wainwright, Kings of Leon, R. Kelly,  The Black Lips, Queens of The Stone Age etc.” At the Q&A the man who snapped Glam and Punk’s iconic images stressed that his recent subjects include “Kabuki theatre,” proudly adding he’d been given more access to that rarefied realm than any other non-Japanese shooter – just as Bowie, Reed and Iggy had, 40-plus years ago.

Although Mick Rock turns 70 next year, to quote the Soviet revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, “There’s no gray hair in his soul.”

SHOT!? The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock is a Magnolia Pictures, VICE Documentary Films, RockEye Productions and Straight Up Films production. On April 7, Magnolia Pictures theatrically released SHOT! at the Metrograph in N.Y. and the Laemmle Music Hall in L.A. , as well as on VOD and digital. For more info see:

A longtime contributor to Rock Cellar Magazine, Ed Rampell co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.” Rampell’s interview with America’s former Poet Laureate appears in 2015’s “Conversations With W.S. Merwin.”

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