Two documentaries – Martha: A Picture Story and Where’s My Ray Cohn?

Martha: A Picture Story

Martha Cooper’s aim was to become a National Geographic photographer. Instead, at 76 years young, she’s revered for her photographing street art (or graffiti).

In the 1970s, as the boroughs of New York City burned, Cooper worked as a photographer for the New York Post. She looked for images of creativity and play, where others saw crime and poverty. Capturing children in their element was especially powerful. As a result, she also snapped some of the first images of New York graffiti, at a time when the city had declared war on this new culture.

This is the life story of a pioneer who broke the rules and has become revered for it … an icon even. Cooper comes across as somebody who enjoys making connections with those that others may consider outcasts or outliers.

I found it alluring and fascinating. This was somebody I knew nothing about and her legacy has been well captured by director Selina Miles in her debut feature. All up, this is a masterful piece of work about a woman who has become legendary in her own lifetime for her life’s passion.

Where’s My Ray Cohn?

Roy Cohn was a liar, a thief and a manipulator who reached the highest echelons of power. He was a confidante and friend to presidents such as Ronald Reagan, business leaders including Donald Trump, the Mafia and J. Edgar Hoover. A ruthless and unscrupulous lawyer, if Cohn represented you, he fought tooth and nail to have you acquitted and, if that wasn’t possible, for a greatly reduced sentence.

This is a fascinating documentary about the rise and fall of one of the most controversial and influential Americans of the 20th Century. Cohn formulated his playbook in the 1950s, but it’s all too familiar today. Never admit blame or apologise; use favours and fear to ensure support for your objectives; lie; expertly manipulate the media to gain advantage and destroy your opponents.

Where’s My Roy Cohn? covers his entire history, from his birth in 1927 to his death in 1986. It carries us from the Depression, through the Red Scare of the 50s, to the 70s and 80s’ New York high life of wealth, celebrity and Studio 54. There is a lot to unpack and Where’s My Roy Cohn? moves along at pace, painting a damning picture of a man without a moral compass.

I was intrigued and appalled not only by what he did, but by the fact he got away with it for so long. The doco directed by Matt Tyrnauer doesn’t glorify him, but recognises his achievements and shortcomings.

Alex First

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