Judge Gordon Sullivan hasn't been in an actual war zone, but he's an intense bowler.
15 Years 3 Wars 1 Photographer
When most people think of the Pulitzer Prize for photography, they're thinking of the Pulitzer Price for Breaking News Photography (what was once known was the Pulitzer Price for Spot News Photography before 2000). It's those shots of news as it happens (rather than "feature" photography that is developed by the photojournalist). Picking up a book that includes all of the winners of the prize is like looking through a catalogue of horrors, foreign and domestic. From executions to house fires, the prize-winning photographs take a humane look at often inhumane problems. To win such a prize requires both luck and skill. Luck, to be in the right place at the right time, and skill to take the photograph almost without thinking. Many, if not most, of the prize-winning photographs were captured under extreme physical duress that left little opportunity for reflection on the part of the photography. Thanks to Shooting Robert King, viewers can get a better sense of the kind of lengths photographers must go to when getting that shot.
Specifically, Shooting Robert King follows the Robert King of the title as he attempts to earn a Pulitzer Prize for his photography. To do so, we follow him from his first foray as a young art school grad in Sarajevo in 1992 to his most recent assignment in Iraq as an embedded journalist. Along the way King changes from a naïve young shooter to a competent family man, all while documenting conflicts in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Rwanda.
For the first third or so of Shooting Robert King, I was reaching for the box, checking and double checking that this wasn't supposed to be a mockumentary aimed at the way war has been turned into a business for news agencies and their employees. Robert King is so darned naïve, so lucky not to get shot, that I couldn't believe he wasn't a character rather than a real person. I mean, who wears neon in a war zone? He's so wet behind the ears that if he'd had a gun instead of a camera I'm sure he would have accidently shot himself.
Then the film takes a darker turn. King grows up quickly, or rather becomes more cynical and aware very quickly. The film alternates between footage of King (captured by fellow photojournalists) and interviews with King. We see King use drugs and alcohol to deal with the contrast between his life in the States and the increasingly horrifying things he sees in war zones. The fact that he eventually settles down and has to reconcile his home life and his role as a chronicler of war makes the whole film much more poignant.
Though King himself is a fascinating figure, Shooting Robert King does a great job balancing his journey with the story of the wars he is capturing. The conflicts are given a kind of secondary status within the film, which means we catch glimpses of them, usually though King's eyes. This gives us an access to images and experience from these conflicts that is different from (if not at odds with) the usual imagery we see of places like Chechnya and Iraq.
This DVD is pretty solid. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does a fine job with the varied material that comprises the film. Some of the footage from war zones looks (unsurprisingly) a bit rough, while the contemporary interview material looks as clean and bright as new video can. The audio is well-balanced, and it's easy to hear the dialogue and interviews equally.
Extras are surprisingly extensive for this kind of release. They start out with a commentary by director Richard Parry and producer Vaughan Smith, which really finds the pair watching the film together and sharing reminisces. It's a fine track, but not essential. We also get a pair of deleted scenes that find King in New York City and England. There's a making-of featurette, along with a couple of news segments on the various conflicts that King was involved with. The group that produced the film (Frontline Films) gets its own featurette. Fans are going to be most interested in "Riding with the King" a kind of sequel to Shooting that follows King to Mexico to investigate some murders. At 15 minutes, it stands as an excellent "Where are they now?" companion to the feature.
Shooting Robert King is a fine documentary, but I'm left feeling it isn't a great one. I'm not sure if King isn't quite an interesting enough subject to sustain this kind of 80-minute analysis, or if the filmmakers somehow failed to construct his story to be more effective. In either case, as it stands, the film is likely to appeal to those interested in photojournalism or war documentary, but this film is unlikely to break out into a wider audience.
Shooting Robert King is an interesting documentary likely to appeal to those who care about photojournalism and war correspondence. The technical presentation is solid, and the extras make this an attractive package, even if most viewers will probably only want to rent this disc.
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