Robert Frank and Free Intuition

Leaving Home, Coming Home Essay - 2004 Robert Frank Documentary by Gerald Fox

This Leaving Home, Coming Home essay contains spoilers. Gerald Fox’s 2004 documentary features Robert Frank and June Leaf. Check out VV movie reviews, along with cast/character articles, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings, at the home page.


Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank maps the mind of its madly brilliant multihyphenate subject. All the ingredients, all the ingredients! Robert Frank, a Swiss-American, finds just what he needs — free intuition — in an opening Coney Island segment, a first act sequence that sets the table for curious viewers and ravenous photography enthusiasts. Rather than forcing visual poignancy, director Gerald Fox allows poetry to naturally emerge by following Frank’s thoughts as he revisits the settings of his most well-known images.

What is your favorite Robert Frank photograph? Perhaps something from the 1958 book The Americans, which chronicles the mass loneliness of U.S. residents during the 50s. Leaving Home, Coming Home does indeed examine the sociopolitical factors that affected Frank’s most popular work, and Fox peels away the layers of the subject’s creative process during his days in Paris, London and The Big Apple, yet the best moments transpire when Frank riffs back and forth with his loving wife, the artist June Leaf. This marital aspect in Leaving Home, Coming Home showcases the shared free intuition and creative harmony between the two artists, a crucial ingredient when trying to comprehend how they dealt with the untimely deaths of Frank’s two children.

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Leaving Home, Coming Home Essay - 2004 Robert Frank Documentary by Gerald Fox

When Frank speaks about his career in Leaving Home, Coming Home, he often gets flustered while recalling the practical logistics which produced “clear and strong pictures.” The photographer recalls having “no fear” while searching for “elegant” subjects in Black neighborhoods, and how he learned to better understand America after being jailed for looking “suspicious.” As Frank visits June at their Nova Scotia home, a sense of calm washes over him; it seems as though she embodies all the qualities that he searched for in subjects prior to their 1971 marriage. And so the documentary suddenly shifts from a story about Frank’s work to a tale about free intuition and enduring love — not quite a twist, but a welcomed surprise.

Fox utilizes some slick filmmaking techniques in Leaving Home, Coming Home. A few sequences conclude with raw street footage transforming into a Frank-style still. The director shoots upward during one of Leaf’s free-flowing commentaries, her big, roaming eyes contrasting with her sweet and controlled voice. It’s a vibe. “All the materials,” as Frank would say. It’s easy to see why someone so fascinated by human motion and free intuition would be drawn to Leaf. As a storyteller, Fox informs viewers about both subjects’ ethos, and then brings out the cinéma vérité through sequences about Frank’s filmmaking career, which involved making movies with the legendary beatnik novelist Jack Kerouac, and directing several family-themed productions featuring his own children. Leaf’s presence in Frank’s life — her influence — makes absolute sense as the focal subject details the psychological decline of his son Pablo, along with his daughter Andrea’s death from a plane crash at age 20.

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Leaving Home, Coming Home Essay - 2004 Robert Frank Documentary by Gerald Fox

Leaving Home, Coming Home frequently reminds viewers about Frank’s prestige as not just a photographer, but as a filmmaker. Some tales, though, feel incomplete, such as an anecdote about The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger causing trouble after filming the 1972 documentary Cocksucker Blues. Similarly, the Kerouac bits end too quickly. Oh, the insight, though… the stories dealing with personal tragedies through art. The poetry comes in. Leaving Home, Coming Home is a sharp snapshot of a photography titan. All the ingredients! Chaos and clarity, freedom and free intuition.

Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank is available to stream at OVID.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.

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