This sobering and harrowing career-spanning documentary on The Sunday Times's photojournalist Don McCullin is quite an experience: if McCullin isn't the best documentary of 2013 it's going to be some year.
His well-to-do, softly spoken accent belies his rough upbringing but Don McCullin's hard knock life helped him find his calling: he ingratiated himself with a London gang involved with the killing of a policeman and his image of them was printed in The Observer. Soon the young photographer found himself trekking the globe seeking out wars to learn about 'the price of humanity and its suffering': his images of Biafra, Vietnam, Beirut and The Congo he send back to first The Observer, and then The Sunday Times Magazine, were iconic.
But McCullin isn't just about the pictures he took; McCullin is about the morality of being a war photographer, something he now likens to 'mercenary'. Throughout his life McCullin, as he candidly tells us here, grappled with the opposing forces of doing the job he's paid to do - taking pictures of the victims of war - and stepping in to help those victims when he has the opportunity to do so. At what point is objectivity no longer an issue? At what point do you put down the camera? There are two instances where McCullin's 'humanity', as he calls it, intervened: helping an elderly Turkish woman evade advancing Greek forces during the Cypriot civil war and giving a starving Biafran child some barley sugar from his pocket. He also refused to snap an execution in Vietnam, thinking he didn't have the right to document the man’s death. He didn't take that picture, but most of what he does take strikes through the heart of anyone that sees them.
McCullin cuts a haunted figure. He draws parallels between himself and the 'blood lust' of the mercenaries he accompanied in The Congo and the conflicting image of the Christian Phalangists of Beirut who massacred innocents while bearing the cross on their chest. This inner fight looms large over the documentary and haunts McCullin since; this, and the Murdoch takeover of The Sunday Times, hastened his retirement where he now prefers to snap British landscapes.
It's not easy to watch at times but McCullin is a must see.
Review by Gavin Burke | 11:02 | Friday 4th January 2013 | Movie Review
This is an unsettling masterpiece. McCullin is living history for the latter half of the twentieth-century. Maybe, just maybe, looking at some of the harrowing scenes he has captured people will realise what war is about and look for another way. It is essentially what human beings do to each without exploring the whys and wherefores, though I found myself asking how?Posted 20:23 | Wed 23rd Jan 2013
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