Film Reviews

Review: ‘The Incomparable Rose Hartman’

Hot Docs 2016

Rose Hartman’s now-iconic photo of Bianca Jagger atop a horse in Studio 54.
Courtesy of Hot Docs

The Incomparable Rose Hartman
(USA, 70 min.)
Dir. Øtis Mass
Programme: Artscapes (International Premiere)

Rose Hartman photographs celebrities living the sweet life, but don’t dare call her a paparazzo. This loud, brash, and eccentric shutterbug captures the lives of the rich and famous in her own unique and fast-paced way. Rather than hunt stars for perfect shots, Hartman stealthily glides through luxurious parties to snap candid, yet beautifully composed photographs of A-list celebrities.

Some peers call Hartman The Tasmanian Devil for her furious ability to sneak and shoot, but others just call this abrasive character a bitch. As The Incomparable Rose Hartman shows, the people taking the pictures can be far more interesting than the subjects within the frame. This fabulous doc is a must-see for its fun and complex portrait of an intriguing character. Equally noteworthy for POV readers is how director Øtis Mass and subject Rose Hartman both treat photography as a form of documentary (and explicitly refer to it as such) as the film chronicles a history of the chiffon jungle in New York hot spots like Studio 54 before the days of Smartphone’s and Instagram. Hartman’s oeuvre impresses as the film showcases her gorgeous archive of celebrity shots, but Mass’s portrait of the photographer is equally dynamic and appealing.

The doc presents Hartman as an enigma, a woman whose infatuation with the lives of her subjects illuminates the idealised selves that people see in celebrities. As the film lets Hartman and her peers chronicle the photographer’s work and notorious zero-bullshit attitude, Mass crafts an intriguing exposé on Hartman’s own careful composition as friends and colleagues reveal her affectations, such as her gradually chicer wardrobe and her adoption of an unplaceable phony accent. Especially revealing are scenes in which Hartman loses her cool with Moss and berates him for asking soft questions or, most humorously, for neglecting to get her a muffin from the coffee shop. Like Hartman’s own photos, the film relishes in moments of candid intimacy that humanise its subject.

The Incomparable Rose Hartman screens:
-Wednesday, May 4 at the Isabel Bader at 9:00 PM
-Friday, May 6 at the Isabel Bader at 11:00 AM
-Saturday, May 7 at the Fox Theatre at 7:00 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.