You might call this a quintessential rock doc, given it’s about Mick Rock, legendary photographer of Bowie, Lou Reed and Blondie. Rock is his real name, and clearly his real nature, too.
The film, directed by Barney Clay under the Vice movies banner, chronicles the life and excesses of Mick, allowing the man himself to narrate his own mythology from behind dark glasses. “I identified with the French symbolist poets,” he intones, having studied them at Cambridge.
A wannabe Rimbaud, he sets off on a journey into LSD – “the lysergic experience opened up my third eye” – which leads him to the King’s Road and someone offering him a fiver to take pictures of Syd Barrett, who’d just left Pink Floyd to go solo.
Then there was Bowie biting Mick Ronson’s guitar and a legend was born. Mick directed the Life on Mars video.
Mick sees himself in a symbiotic relationship with the stars he snaps, as if capturing their aura. There’s Lou Reed photographed singing at La Scala in 1972, the image of which becomes the Transformer album cover. Mick is behind several other such iconic graphics of the 20th century, including the classic Queen shots, with Freddie being particularly inspired by a still of Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express; or Debbie Harry on the cover of Penthouse, clothed. “She was the Marilyn Monroe of rock n roll,” says Mick.
Mick himself believes all these auras and all this fame rubbed off on his soul and drove him to a massive cocaine habit which allowed him a period of unbridled creativity in the grime of 1970s New York. “If you don’t sleep, you get about a bit,” he explains.
But when New York’s biggest cocaine dealers become the biggest collectors of your work – “it’s the exchange system, you know” – you should know you’re in trouble and Mick lost all his friends, all their trust and found himself in a coma.
This is a story of excess, madness and icons. Pictures and stories about Bowie, Rod, Iggy and the Stones. Drugs, sex and the usual rock ’n’ roll but it’s also about memory and popular culture and self-image, the ability to imagine yourself into something bigger. Mick does yoga and stands on his head before each shoot, a zen approach to rock.
We see him delving into his boxes of images, all this energy and rawness consigned to contact sheets. The ghosts come alive.
When we see him at work now, growling and oohing like he was David Hemmings in Blow-Up, old school as you like, with a commentary of “yes darlin’”, “lovely”, “that’s one for the ages,” there’s a performance in itself which speaks volumes about the creation of image and the selling of music and myth. Mick knows it more than most and does a fine job of it in his own movie.