Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe (2007) - Rotten Tomatoes

Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe (2007)

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Critic Consensus: Vital documentation of an unsung 70's art patron and his famous photographer lover. A vivid and tragic story.

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Movie Info

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Sam Wagstaff came home to New York City and pursued a career in advertising, and through his work in the ad game he developed a keen interest in photography. Reflecting his own personal evolution as he came to accept his homosexuality, Wagstaff became an enthusiastic collector of art photography and gained a reputation as a curator, organizing a number of important museum shows of new photographers and becoming a friend and confidante of artists such as Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Richard Tuttle, and Tony Smith. In the early '70s, Wagstaff met a young photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, who shared a loft with his best friend, a poet and aspiring musician named Patti Smith. Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe became first friends and then lovers, and as enthusiastic supporters of Smith's work they traveled between New York's upscale art community and the punk rock scene that was emerging on the Bowery. Passionate allies in art and life who explored the edges of human experience, Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe were partners for life, but their lives were cut short by AIDS -- the disease claimed Wagstaff in 1987, and Mapplethorpe in 1989. Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe is a documentary by filmmaker James Crump that explores the lives of two remarkable people, their circle of talented friends, and the community and times which surrounded them. Black White + Gray received its world premiere at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.

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Critic Reviews for Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe

All Critics (19) | Top Critics (10)

Crump's film colourfully depicts Wagstaff's complex inner mindset and rarefied eye for imagery by allowing the stunning prints to linger on the screen.

August 15, 2008 | Rating: 4/6 | Full Review…

The movie makes its main point. Wagstaff was an important, complex, fascinating figure, well worth remembering.

February 14, 2008 | Full Review…

Wagstaff's character accounts for some of the frustration the film induces. Crumb's documentary style accounts for the rest.

February 1, 2008 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Wagstaff was a fascinating figure and deserves the detailed tribute provided here.

October 19, 2007 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

A potent exercise in art-world mythography.

October 19, 2007 | Rating: 3.5/5

Black White & Gray raises provocative questions but can't answer them, or even frame them with total clarity.

October 18, 2007 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe

In cataloguing the relationship between art collector Sam Wagstaff and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the documentary "Black White and Gray" does a good job of showing the role of the collector in the art world, especially Wagstaff who was very influential in shaping tastes, especially in the realm of photography. The emphasis is more on Wagstaff which is okay since so much has already been written about Mapplethorpe. Strangely enough on the subject of Mapplethorpe's photgraphy, the movie is oddly timid, going around in circles in desperately avoiding to admit the eroticism of the photographs. The same could be said about the details of the relationship.(Luckily, Patti Smith is on hand to fill in the blanks of how unique it was, with her actually being an equal partner.) Yes, it is possible that Mapplethorpe used Wagstaff but if that's the case, then I would agree that Wagstaff also used him, as like any relationship both partners had a profound effect on each other and on the wider art world.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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