I know Ron Galella as the photo credit that pops up when I look for pictures of dead celebrities, which would probably be a point of pride for the pioneering paparazzo: His work, which chronicled everyone from Jackie Onassis Kennedy to Marlon Brando during their most embarrassing moments, has become so indistinguishable from the old-Hollywood celebrity culture it represents that they’re essentially the same thing. In Smash His Camera, Leon Gast’s documentary about Gallela, who’s now 79, the photographer talks about his former “subjects” so obsessively that it’s almost charming, if it wasn’t so fucking creepy; at one point he refers to a famous snapshot of Jackie O. walking down the street as his Mona Lisa, before later admitting that the only reason she’s smiling in the photo is probably because “I don’t think she knew it was me” behind the camera.
As far as portraits of aging has-beens go, nothing in Smash His Camera is as well-honed as Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s stunning Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, and the film is sometimes overly didactic about Galella’s meaning to pop culture, at one point bringing together a dinner table of talking heads to debate his contemporary relevancy. But at its best, the film refuses to pass judgment on the controversial photog, letting him do his own thing: hovering around a party to score a photo of Robert Redford, mailing a personal letter to Brangelina, cuddling with one of his many pet bunnies. Galella, unsurprisingly, is a weird dude, but one whose eccentricities ultimately seem more endearing than harmful. He may be the genesis of everything that’s wrong with today’s media-celebrity-industrial complex (you know you have a problem when your biggest defender is the former editor-in-chief of Us Weekly), but he’s also the relic of a bygone era—when you could still be famous and weird, or imagine that just because you were taking someone’s picture, you might actually be their friend.