Chop Suey

Not since Leni Riefenstahl has a documentarian been so captivated by the human form as filmmaker and photographer Bruce Weber. The director of Broken Noses and Let's Get Lost often trains his camera on subjects for no better reason than that the contours of their faces make interesting shadows, or that their bodies in motion form remarkable shapes. Weber's third feature-length documentary, Chop Suey, is imbued with the same "beauty is truth" attitude. The picture is ostensibly a collision of a couple of short films, pasted together with odd scraps of footage and voiceover ruminations. Most of Chop Suey consists of arty takes of ridiculously handsome model Peter Johnson, whom Weber discovered while photographing a high-school wrestling team, but much of the balance is taken up by a mini-biography of the late jump-jazz pianist Frances Faye, known for her lusty performances of racy songs. Weber veers impulsively from one subject to the other, with substantial detours into a survey of his aesthetic obsessions. The filmmaker shares anecdotes about his photo shoots with Robert Mitchum, Sir William Thesiger, and Jan-Michael Vincent, relates his love for The Rat Pack and Diana Vreeland, offers samples of his favorite poems and music, and wanders through a detailed tour of his photo collection. Some free-form documentaries make it difficult to distinguish between the charmingly digressive and the sloppy, but Weber maintains control. Chop Suey plays as a journal, penned (or lensed, in this case) by an artist who has long been captivated by the history behind indelible images. Toward the end of his film, Weber confesses that he tends to fall in love with his subjects, and wants "to follow their image and see where it leads." In Chop Suey, he follows images he's created, or images he didn't create, but loves regardless. In either case, he's generous with stories and reflections, communicating what's captivating about certain people, even if it's just that they look good naked.

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