Harry Benson: Shoot First is entertaining and anecdotal, filled with  famous faces and equally famous photos. It would be tempting to call it superficial at first…but also deals with the role of the photographer, as Benson sees it. He is an eyewitness. He’s not there to judge or censor the reality unfolding right in front of his lens, whether it’s a bloody Robert Kennedy lying on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel kitchen (with his wife holding a hand up to block the camera) or a little boy dropping his pants to take an impromptu swim in a Glasgow public fountain.

One after another, celebrities of all stripes (from Ralph Lauren to Sharon Stone to Donald Trump) tell us that Harry is a world-class charmer: that’s how he got—and still gets—famous people to do unexpected things. They trust him. He’s the man Elizabeth Taylor invited into her hospital room after she’d had her head shaved for a life-threatening operation. Michael Jackson didn’t hesitate in allowing Harry shoot him in his bedroom with young children at his side. It’s not Harry’s place to judge.

It turns out that the octogenarian is a plain-spoken bloke, unpretentious and foul-mouthed, as comfortable walking in his hometown with a childhood pal as he is photographing presidents and movie stars. He also learned to be competitive early on, beating rivals to a good story and using devious means to get exclusives that had their tongues wagging.

It isn’t just access to celebrities that makes Benson’s pictures stand out: he has a trained eye and a finely-honed instinct for what makes a great set-up that will lead to a memorable shot. Filmmakers Justin Bare and Matthew Miele capture all of this and more in their lively, enjoyable documentary.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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February 2024