Since Robert Mapplethorpe’s images of New York’s countercultures and underground BDSM clubs, his portraiture, and his sometimes sexual still-life photos of flowers catapulted him into the mainstream, his work has had an indelible grip on fashion and film alike. He was the subject of an HBO documentary and a retrospective at LACMA and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2016; his influence is clearly felt in the work of Shayne Oliver (both for Hood by Air and his residency at Helmut Lang) and Raf Simons, who incorporated Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre into his Spring 2017 menswear collection. (During his life, Mapplethorpe—perhaps less obviously—was also quite good friends with one Carolina Herrera.)
So it was perhaps only a matter of time before Mapplethorpe also got biopic treatment—in the form of the eponymous film Mapplethorpe, which premiered earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival and whose first trailer debuted Friday. Though the film itself was greeted with less-than-positive reviews upon its release—at time of publication, it holds a 33 percent on Rotten Tomatoes—Matt Smith, the former Doctor Who and The Crown star who plays the titular photographer, was singled out for particular praise, and the trailer hones in on his performance and his relationship with, among others, Patti Smith. (Mapplethorpe photographed the now-iconic cover of her 1975 record, Horses.) Hari Nef is also in this movie for the briefest of seconds.
The trailer opens with Marianne Rendón as Patti Smith explaining to a clerk at the Chelsea Hotel that she and Mapplethorpe are “going to be big stars”—only, the thing is, “today, we don’t have any money,” and they do need a place to stay. The pair sets up shop in the Chelsea; Mapplethorpe uses their room as a studio, cultivating his photography career while also sprouting romances with a succession of collectors and muses. “Even that which we deem obscene you make more beautiful than I thought possible,” one observer tells Mapplethorpe in the trailer.
The film, which opens in 2019, begins shortly after he drops out of Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and extends, during the course of nearly two hours, to his death, of complications from AIDS, in 1989. “Are you scared of dying?” one collector and early patron asks Mapplethorpe as they lie in bed. Smith, as the photographer, dryly delivers his reply: “Only before I’m famous.”