Despite taking as their subject some of the best known and thoroughly recorded subjects in film, the display of over 140 Magnum photographs at London Film Museum's new space in Covent Garden show some intimate and unusual shots.
The exhibition covers a broad range of classic films, from Rebel Without a Cause to Limelight, Zabriskie Point to The Trial, making a clear testament to the close relationship between the Magnum photographers and Hollywood's film makers. Whilst capturing many memorable scenes from these films, the collection also features many behind-the-scenes shots, making for some surreal images. Dennis Stock is particularly playful, with one picture taken during the filming of The Alamo showing John Wayne striding into the Texan desert, pursued by a film-hand bearing a life-size model of a horse over his shoulder. Another, on the set of Planet of the Apes shows a woman made up with the face of an ape standing casually in her dressing room, deep in conversation. Stock apparently took these carefully-dressed extras out onto the streets of downtown LA to scare the general public, and shots of Ape-men standing outside a strip club and greeting passers-by in their cars serve as some of the highlights of the exhibit.
Each photographer's work is shown individually and it is interesting to see the contrasts in style, particularly when working with the same actor. Elliot Erwitt's shots of Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch include the most iconic images of the actress enjoying the breeze from the Subway vent wafting up her white dress, capturing her as she is largely remembered on film - as a vivacious beauty. These images are accompanied by a display of her dressing room keys from Fox studios and, strangely enough, her pill boxes inscribed with the name 'N. Miller', reflecting the fascination and intrigue that has always surrounded Monroe, to the extent that her prescription pills become an item of interest.
By contrast, towards the end of the exhibition Monroe is shown photographed again, this time by Eve Arnold for the actress's final film The Misfits, and the result is quite different. One shot shows the actress covered up in a denim jacket, seemingly oblivious to the camera lens and deep in her own thoughts, as she recalls her lines for a scene with Clarke Gable.
And whilst some of the collections take the actors as their focus, others have taken their interest in the technical feats of the filming process. W. Eugene Smith frames his shots of Limelight with the surrounding mechanics of the set and follows Charlie Chaplin in his role as director. And Erich Lessing's documentation of John Hudson's Moby Dick follows the process of filming in the ocean, producing some amusing shots of the cast and crew negotiating the water: one image shows Gregory Peck immersed and tied to a mechanical whale.
At times some of the photographs are striking, capturing the excitement of the early Hollywood era, and the development of what was still very much a new medium. Yet this is certainly just as much a celebration of the happy union between two mediums. The carefully constructed sets and selected actors make for extremely interesting subjects and models for the Magnum photographers, resulting in images that are artworks in themselves, whilst managing to serve as an apt memento for the classic films that Hollywood has produced.