I am a huge fan of Anton's, and have been since I was 15. I've spent the last 17 years of my fandom ruminating over questions about his style; how he makes such dense layers of shadow and light create an entire world around a moment. I used to imagine some complicated work method carried out by an intimidatingly talented, super-confident, never-has-the-time-for-anyone photographer, and yet when I got to watch more interviews that included or were about Anton, I kept being thrown for a loop. Time and again, there was this soft-spoken, eloquent, sweet Anton, who took all those photos I adored, and turned out to really just be a fan of the people he photographed.
Anton Corbijn: Inside Out, directed by Klaartje Quirijns, answered so many of my questions, with new ones blossoming in their place. Anton seems to be a gentle person whose dissatisfying and often lonely family life made him seek a new home elsewhere, which turned out to be in the international world of art and music. Some facets of his life bewitched me, like the way his very hectic lifestyle keeps him traveling all over the globe as he remains very much in his world, seeing things as he sees them. In every photo he brings you to a precise, once-in-a-lifetime moment, all while being everywhere and nowhere at once. I was surprised at how disconnected he says he feels from people, when so much of his work is about union and the contrasts that lie therein.
Throughout the film, I felt like he and I would actually have some good, deep conversations if we ever met; this film isn't just for fans, but it's also for artists of all kinds. It was interesting to hear Anton talk about so many of the fundamental hunt-for-the-Self issues that artists try to give a voice or presence to. I found myself even taking an odd sense of comfort in listening to him discuss these things, knowing that everyone goes through them. I had several of those "oh, it's not just me..." moments. Whether you're new in your chosen field, or you have a career as long and lauded as Anton's, that beast of journeying to one's soul is never tamed. There's an element to being an artist that was wonderfully described by Metallica's James Hetfield in the film, when he said: "Through your art you're able to reach out and get some of that 'you're okay, man. You're doing okay, you've grown up to be a good person'." It made me wonder if Anton ever feels that kind of validation, given the profile and reception of his work. His sense of disconnection and apparent melancholy were not surprising but still very intriguing to learn about. One would imagine that someone like him would feel almost painfully connected to every person and thing around him. But through the film, you learn about how much all this relates back to his early years, his father, and the unexpected loneliness of a church family's life. I kept wondering how well he's connected the dots.
On the whole, Anton Corbijn: Inside Out is just a joy, and it lives up to its title. We do get to know Anton inside and out, and get to meet some of his family, see photos of his childhood, and see the hypnotically beautiful photos and clips from his travels. An eerie and charming element in the film is the way Quirijns uses photos and shots from Anton's films at key moments to bolster whatever event or or moment he's discussing. It constantly explores the texture of life experience, and the question of whether life imitates art.
The film does a sensational job of making someone so gentle yet impenetrable become completely accessible. You're at Anton's shoulder as he comes into a packed gallery awaiting his arrival, you're with him in remote locations in Italy or France, you're on planes with him, in the car with him, you look out hotel room windows with him (there's a beautiful window sequence that's at once inviting and very lonely). You eat with him, you wander the woods with him ...
And still, you feel the warmth when he lets you "in" and reveals something deep about himself, but you also feel the cold when he shuts you "out," keeping certain doors very much locked. As open as he is with Klaartje, he's still a mystery. His own shadow and light, as we all are.
Here's a clip of Bono (being very much himself) discussing Anton's work in the film.