The man behind the camera is not your friend

By Laurie Bennett

June 21, 2010 at 7:46am

Smash His Camera, the film airing on HBO this month about paparazzo Ron Galella, got us to thinking about what constitutes a personal relationship.

This is our obsession at Muckety, where connections are translated into records in our database and lines on our maps.

If we were to connect Galella to each of his subjects, we’d have a hell of a Muckety map.

Galella was a one-man Gawker stalker before the age of the internet, the cellphone camera and the dominance of celebrity culture.

He photographed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Grace, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Madonna and countless other celebs.

But does snapping a photo forge a personal relationship? Galella suggests so, particularly as it applies to his favorite subject, Jackie Onassis.

“Why did I have the obsession with Jackie?” he asks in the film. “Because I had no girlfriend. She was my girlfriend in a way.”

Like many of Galella’s statements, this rings false, particularly since he admits to dating Jackie’s maid at one point to get information about the former first lady’s whereabouts.

Galella followed Jackie and the Kennedy children for years. He finally was arrested after stepping out from the bushes to photograph Jackie and John bicycling in Central Park. He sued and she counter-sued. (By our definition, suing somebody does create a relationship, which is why Jackie appears in the map above. Galella also sued Brando, who had punched him in the mouth.)

Jackie accused Galella of scaring and endangering her children. His tactics included not only hiding behind bushes and dating the maid, but bribing doormen, entering John’s school, running red lights and breaking speed limits. Jackie’s safety concerns carry even more weight now, given the death of Princess Di years later.

Although the film won the best director prize at the Sundance festival, not everyone considers it a fair portrayal.

Martin London, who represented Jackie in her suit against Galella, recently wrote in the Huffington Post: “Almost everything in the film about that case is a misrepresentation, deception, or an outright lie.”

Noting that the movie’s producer is the son of Galella’s lawyer, London says that even the name of the film is untrue. The title supposedly derives from an order from Jackie to Secret Service agents, but London maintains that she never said any such thing.

While Smash His Camera generally portrays Galella as a likeable, quirky character, it does include critical comments.

Former New York Times lawyer Floyd Abrams calls him “the pricetag of the First Amendment.” The late Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, describes him as “this obscene, bottom-feeding, snapshot tabloid so-called journalist.”

If Galella, who declares himself a “paparazzo superstar,” has a talent, it’s not in his photography but in his understanding of celebrity. The general public’s desire to know the famous has become insatiable.

I have to confess that Smash His Camera stirred this appetite in me. The person I want to know is Bobby Kennedy Jr., who after years of being hounded by Galella is shown treating the tottering old man with undeserved civility.

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