SXSW Film Review: The Incomparable Rose Hartman

Singular photographer captures New York nightlife

A living testament to one of her most iconic photos, Rose Hartman arrived on the back of a white horse at the world premiere of the documentary about her life.

Bianca Jagger rides a horse into Studio 54 for her birthday party in 1977. (Photo Courtesy of Rose Hartman)

Hartman carved her place in history with fearless ambition and an eye for photographing split-second intimate moments of high fashion and celebrity; her fascination with “penetrating the fame” of attractive stylish people landed shots of every famous name in the scene. First time director Otis Mass peeks behind the lens to find out what makes Hartman tick in this portrait of a portraitist.

One surprising reveal is a look at how her less than rosy childhood contributed to her eccentric, occasionally aggressive, brilliantly bonkers personality. Predominantly through interviews with friends and colleagues, Mass examines a small-statured woman who made a big name for herself in the fiercely exclusive, male-dominated fashion world of the Seventies and Eighties, and whether her work is paparazzi-style photos or high art with historical value. Does he actually crack the protective mystique and get the full scoop on the real Rose? Hard to say. Regardless, this colorful archive of 40 years of unprecedented access to backstage fashion shows and over-the-top nightlife is as charming and as full of life as the subject herself.


The Incomparable Rose Hartman

Documentary Spotlight, World Premiere
Monday, March 14, 11:30am, Alamo Slaughter
Tuesday, March 15, 8:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
Saturday, March 19, 3pm, Alamo South Lamar

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

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